Gautam Buddha discovered the meditation technique of Vipassana some 2,500 years ago. However, it was gradually lost to India. Fortunately, Myanmar preserved the technique through an unbroken chain of practitioners and teachers.
According to its practitioners, Vipassana leads to the development of insight into one’s own nature by which one may recognise and eliminate the causes of suffering.
Taking cue, medical practitioners believe that this development of self-insight helps patients of various psychological and mental disorders to delve deep into their own psyche to discover gradually the root cause of their sufferings within their own minds.
Mumbai-based Dr. Malti Sharan explains, “Often patients come with hallucinatory tendencies. Some are agitated beyond measure, always insecure about their well-being. More often than not the reason for their acute suffering resides outside their control…Through Vipassana, I have observed patients gradually get out of this frustrated attempt to blame other causes or people for what’s happening to them. And once that’s achieved, it is easier for medication to deliver benefits.”
Herself a severe migraine patient once, she shares, “My expanding business took a toll on my health. Migraine became a huge problem until I tried Vipassana. After some persistent practice, I discovered that this disease got cured permanently.”
Its practitioners believe that Vipassana sends message to the brain to calm it down — resulting in reduction of the intensity of mental restlessness or pain.
Dr. Anirban Malhotra maintains that by concentrated and neutral observation one can get rid of mild pains and body aches without any drug medication.
One of the techniques used is anapana-sati. It calls to observe one’s breath without any regulation or self modification over a triangular area between the nose and mouth. This, medical professionals believe, “allows one to sharpen the attention span without any stress”.
Shaswat, a IIT-Kharagpur student says, “With regular practice of Vipassana, I have discovered a huge leap in my attention and concentration span.”
Sonia Mangwana, a psychiatrist based in England and a regular practitioner of the meditation for seven years, observes, “The core philosophy of Vipassana that everything is impermanent, anicca, gradually informs the mind to treat desires and cravings as similar entities. And slowly, The patients who I recommend the same, learn to just observe even their greatest addictions as just a matter of time bound reality.”
What more, Vipassana was even taught to Tihar jail inmates. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has been reportedly planning to introduce the course in all Indian prisons.
(Above article was published in 'The Hindu'. To read the original article, please click here.)
Sixteen pregnant women are currently attending a 10-day course at the Pune city Vipassana Centre
For ten days no talking,no music or mobile phones,two light meals per day and a daily 4am wake up call. Meditation can be agonisingly difficult,but at the Pune City Vipassana Centre,the waiting lists speak of the popularity of the Vipassana courses. Says Dutta Kohinkar Patil,chairman of the Pune Vipassana committee at the centre at Swargate,for the first time the ongoing ten-day course on Vipassana has had 16 pregnant women. The course will be completed on June 14. This is a scientific technique where ‘passana’ means to see and ‘vi’ means in a special way.”
Vipassana is to explore within observe the reality within oneself with a balanced mind. In Vipassana,respiration and the sensations on the physical body are objects of meditation. Using the technique,one can purifying ones mind and live a happy and peaceful life,Patil explains.
For several centuries after the Mahaparinirvan of the Buddha,the technique was widely practised. In 1969,Satya Narayan Goenka brought the technique back to India from Burma and started teaching the technique. Basically the practice of Vipassana is a scientific technique for purification of mind where one uses ones own mind to operate on ones mind. As the mind is purified,it becomes balanced and peaceful. The body also automatically becomes balanced and healthy, says Patil
While there are 150 such centres in the country,in Pune,the technique is taught at the centre at Swargate. Vipassana is taught in ten-day residential courses. There are no charges or fees for participating in the course. Students who have benefited from such courses donate generously and that takes care of all the course expenses, says Patil. During these ten days,students have to maintain complete silence,and contact with the outside world is totally cut off.
On an average,there are 300 students who pass out of such courses and drop outs are very few, says Patil. “The first three-and-a-half days are for practising Anaapaan Meditation (concentration on inflow and out flow of breath). On the fourth day,students learn the technique of Vipassana and on the final day they learn the meditation technique of Metta Bhavanaa (sharing the merits with all 8: expressing goodwill towards all beings). The practice of Vipassana makes the mind pure and strong,freed from fear,depression or tension, he adds.
(Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas. Above article was published in 'The Indian Express'. To read the original article, please click here.)
The idea of cutting off communication from the world might be a cause for panic attacks. But as Vipassana centres around Mumbai report, the number of stressed-out city dwellers between the ages of 22-30 who’re opting for the intensive meditation technique is steadily increasing.
Sujata Khanna, registrar, Pattana Vipassana Centre, Goregaon says that the number of people below the age of 30 who opt for Vipassana has increased noticeably in the past year. “While Vipassana was considered to be popular among the older crowd, we now find that the number of people below the age of 30 outnumber the senior crowd.”
She adds that during the vacation season, the ratio of women to men is higher: “Most come because they cannot handle the stress in their daily lives.”
Another reason for the youth to attend the intense retreat is to develop concentration skills that will help them in their studies and career.
“We always ask for a doctor’s certificate before they come, because Vipassana isn’t physically easy,” Khanna explains. “You have to sit for long hours and wake up very early, which is a big change from your usual routine. Some people do break down and cry, but a teacher is there to help them with the right techniques to deal with their situation. In fact, we’ve noticed almost 50 per cent of our young students come back.”
Break it down
Advertising executive Labony Kaushal, 25, admits the only reason she thought of giving Vipassana a shot was to alleviate her boredom. “I was just tired of doing the same thing, and having nothing new in life to look forward to. I thought that 10 days of not talking to anyone would be good for me, since I’m not a very talkative person anyway.” Kaushal didn’t do any research before signing up, which she recommends for anyone who’s rolling the idea around in their head. “It’s not about religion; it’s an intense physical and mental experience because you’re just sitting and observing yourself. So, everybody’s experience is different.”
The first day, called Zero Day, is where an audio-visual explains the techniques of meditation to the new arrivals… and little else. “You expect someone to come up to you and tell you something, but you’re just sitting in one place, meditating. I got a headache on the first day, which is something they warn you of because your body is not used to it,” she recalls.
By the second day, Kaushal experienced a surge of energy, but admits the days dragged on. “I was doing a mental countdown to the end. And every day, it felt like I was running a never-ending race,” she says, adding, “But by the final day, I didn’t want to come back to Mumbai. And I definitely want to go back there soon.”
Ask Kaushal whether she’s noticed any permanent changes and she says, “ I was an angry person who’d react without thinking of the consequences, but I’ve become more patient now. I can feel a balance, though I would need to be in an extreme situation to test how powerful it is.”
Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Seema Hingorrany admits she’s seen a substantial rise in the number of young patients opting for Vipassana, and cites stress as the main reason. “Patients between the ages of 22 to 30, who find that they cannot cope with the stress in their lives and the constant need to be in touch with people, take this step because Vipassana teaches you to detach yourself,” she says, adding, “Many of them are going through a break-up in their relationships, or have parents who are getting divorced. They listen to recommendations from friends or their spiritual guru, or have read up on the subject.”
Hingorrany says that she gets emails and calls from patients asking what the right age for Vipassana is, but she opines, “It’s not about being the right age, but having the right reason. If someone is emotionally disturbed or unbalanced, I wouldn’t recommend this intensive introspection because it might further upset the mental balance and cause you to crumble.”
For those who return from their retreat successfully, Hingorrany notices a change in their composition. “I’ve seen patients achieve a balance in body and mind. Many reveal that their stress-related migraines and allergies disappear. And of course, they become emotionally stronger because they have enhanced their coping methods.”
(Written by Rochelle Pinto. Above article was publsihed in 'Hindustan Times'. To read the original article, please click here.)
Are your thoughts spinning out of control? Do you experience overwhelming anxiety and restlessness? Vipassana can empower you to take stock of your life.
Happiness seems to have become elusive for most of us. In fact, it has become more elusive than ever. The constant chase for success has made us miserable. Our lives are ridden with stress and anxiety. We are always on the run — chasing money, deadlines, targets and goals. Is it any wonder then that most of us are overwhelmed with worry and restlessness?
Thankfully, meditation techniques like Vipassana can help people take stock of their lives. It can empower them to de-clutter their minds and experience real peace and happiness. There is accumulating evidence that meditation offers a host of benefits — both psychological and physical. Meditation is known to calm the agitated mind and help the meditator find peace and solace. Vipassana meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka, not only offers psychological and physical benefits but also helps them take concrete steps towards liberation — liberation from misery, defilement, bondage and ignorance.
The universal technique can be practiced by one and all irrespective of colour, creed, race and religion — it is totally non-sectarian. In the words of Goenka, Vipassana involves the conversion from misery to happiness, defilement to purity, bondage to liberation and ignorance to enlightenment. Vipassana, a Buddhist meditation technique, is a pragmatic and result-oriented approach to mind over matter. It helps train the mind to think healthy thoughts and lead a life free from anxiety and misery. The technique needs you to observe your respiration and subsequently your sensations. By observing sensations throughout the body, your mind is slowly and steadily purified at the deepest level. Observing your sensations is not the easiest thing to do; however, once you start practicing diligently and persistently, you are bound to reach the final goal.
The transformation does not happen overnight, it is in fact a lifelong, ongoing process of observing bodily sensations without reacting to them. You need to meditate on a daily basis in order to reap rich benefits of Vipassana. You also need to meditate the right way. Vipassana meditation is not a temporary respite from the daily grind, it is a long-term tool that is bound to cleanse your mind and empower you to see things as they are. It is a way of life that will help you change the regular pattern of your mind. Slowly and steadily, you will stop reacting to anger, pain and anything that would have otherwise made you miserable.
The powerful tool will help you find calm in a chaotic situation. Incidentally, the daily grind creates a great deal of inner turbulence. Our on-the-run lifestyle leaves us with little time for relaxation. How are we to be happy and peaceful in a harrowing scenario like this? Also, we are deeply immobilised by the actions of others. We get disturbed by their actions and allow them to overpower our state of mind. Not only that, we become miserable when things don't work our way.
Practicing Vipassana patiently and persistently leads to mastery over mind. Vipassana will help you live the life you deserve to live — a life free from hatred, ill-will, animosity and mental unrest. A life of love and compassion, happiness and liberation! Retreat within to experience real happiness, real peace and real harmony. Embark on the road to liberation from misery. Be a mental slave or a mental master, the choice is yours.
(-Written by Swati R Chaudhary. Above article was published in Times of India. To read the original article, please click here.)
Following are selected personal experiences shared by Vipassana students from time to time.
-By Mr. S. N. Goenka
1 September 1955! An extremely important day of my life! The incurable and unbearable migraine headaches, which had been a terrible curse, now became a boon for me. I joined the Vipassana meditation course of my revered teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, for ten days. I had serious doubts about the course. Still I went for the course and gained astonishing benefits from the course. This is well known.
My main reservation about Vipassana was that it was a Buddhist meditation technique. What if it made me leave my Hindu religion? What if I became a Buddhist? Surely I would go astray and become debased if I left my religion! Though I had devotion towards the Buddha, I had nothing but disdain for his teaching! Even then I joined the course because Sayagyi convinced me that in the Vipassana course, nothing else would be taught other than sīla (morality), samādhi (concentration of mind) and paññā(wisdom). How could a Hindu like me or any person of any religion object to morality, concentration of mind and wisdom?
Living a life of morality, developing mastery over the mind and purifying the mind by developing wisdom-how can any reasonable person object to these three teachings? I wanted to get rid of my mental defilements such as anger and egotism that resulted in a life full of tension and was the root cause of the migraine headaches. In addition, the family in which I was born and the atmosphere in which I grew up gave great importance to the ideal of abstaining from unwholesome conduct, practice of moral conduct and keeping the mind free from negativity. Therefore, I was reassured to some extent when Sayagyi stated that this is what the Buddha taught and only this will be taught in the Vipassana course, nothing else. Still, some doubt lingered. I decided that I would practice only sīla, samādhi and paññā in the course and would not accept anything else.
I thought that it was indeed true that there were good things in the Buddha Dhamma and that was why it had been accepted and honoured in so many countries and by so many people. But all the good elements had been taken from our Vedic texts. I decided to stay away from the rest.
At the end of the ten days, I saw that in accordance with Sayagyi's statement, nothing other than sīla, samādhi and paññā was taught in the course. The claim that this technique gave results here and now proved to be true. The practice of only ten days had started to eradicate my mental defilements. My tension started to decrease and, as a result, the migraine was cured. I was also relieved forever from the misery caused by the morphine injections and the need to take sleeping tablets. Daily practice of Vipassana weakened my mental defilements. My misery started decreasing. I did not find any fault in the technique. It was totally flawless. I could not see any harm in the technique. It was truly benevolent.
In the first course itself, my spiritual search was fully satisfied. I found Vipassana so pure that I did not feel the necessity to go anywhere else in search of another meditation technique. To develop in Vipassana, every day I meditated one hour in the morning and evening and joined at least one ten-day course every year. Sometimes, I joined a long course of one month, which gave me a deeper understanding at the experiential level. I found Vipassana very rational and logical, practical and scientific. There was no place for blind belief in it. There was no insistence on a belief just because my teacher had said it or the Buddha had said it or it was given in the Tipiṭaka. One understood the teaching at the intellectual level, then at the level of experience, and only then accepted it. One did not accept without knowing, without understanding and without experiencing.
The Arya Samaj made me a rational thinker and kept me away from blind beliefs. This, itself, was a great benefit. Vipassana went further. It liberated me from dry intellectual philosophical arguments and the frenzy of sentimental devotion and taught me to experience true spirituality. Accepting whatever truths I actually experienced, I progressed further and experienced subtler truths. I continued to examine whether my mental defilements were becoming weaker or not. The emphasis of the teaching on actual improvement in the present appealed to me. I understood that if the present improved, the future would improve automatically. If this life improves, the next life will improve automatically. It also became clear to me that I was fully responsible for defiling my mind. Why should any external invisible force defile my mind? Similarly, I alone had the responsibility of purifying my mind. The teacher would, with great compassion, show us the path. But I would have to walk on the path step by step. I became free from the delusion that someone else would liberate me.
This technique did not teach me to develop contempt or aversion towards invisible gods and goddesses but taught me to developmettā for them. The sentiment of "Apni mukti, apne hatha, apna parisrama, apna puruSartha - our liberation is in our own hands; it depends on our own diligence and efforts," did not result in egotism but generated humble awareness of my own responsibility. I liked this self-reliance. I was filled with rapture on recalling these words of a poet: "Svavalanbana ki eka jhalaka para nyauchavara Kubera ka koSa - renounced is the treasury of Kubera (the god of wealth) for one glimpse of self-dependence." My life was transformed. I felt as if I had been born anew.
1954 was the last year of the first Buddha sāsanā of 2500 years. In this year, I came in contact with the Buddha sāsanā for the first time when I was appointed as a member of the food organization committee for providing vegetarian food during the Chattha Sangayana. 1955 was the first year of the second Buddha sāsanā. In this year, I learned Vipassana meditation. It seems that this first year of the second Buddha sāsanā was the sunrise of my good fortune. The final year of the first Buddha sāsanā was the dawn signaling this auspicious sunrise. The fifty years of this Dhamma journey have made my life meaningful, made it successful. I feel blessed.
May the rest of my life be dedicated to Dhamma.
One morning in March 1975, a close friend visited our home while we were taking tea. He told us he had good news: a cure for my wife’s migraines, from which she had suffered since her childhood. This was indeed good news. Though anxious to know more, my wife did not show much enthusiasm; she had become nearly reconciled to her ailment after all efforts to treat it had failed.
Our friend explained that the remedy was a Vipassana camp to be conducted by S.N. Goenka in Jaipur. At once, whatever enthusiasm we had vanished. As Home Secretary in the State Government of Rajasthan, India, I knew something of these “spiritual camps.” The name of Vipassana was unknown to me, but I supposed it must be the same as the rest. We would never attend such a camp. We politely declined the proposal.
The friend persisted, telling how he had benefited from Vipassana; he felt confident that my wife would be relieved of her suffering. He urged her at least to give it a trial. At last my wife agreed to attend the camp, provided I come with her. Being deeply skeptical I found the entire proposition fantastic. But for the sake of my wife, I agreed.
With difficulty, I got leave from my government work, and both of us attended the camp reluctantly, cursing the friend for pushing us into the venture. Nevertheless, having come to the course, we decided to give it a fair trial.
The ten days were indeed an experience. I was amazed at the results obtained in so short a time. We returned home with great happiness and cheer. My wife’s face beamed with joy and hope. She had benefited greatly, but the benefit to me was also immense. I had never expected that, in such a short period, one could learn a technique that offered seemingly unlimited possibilities for self-improvement. I rushed to my friend’s house and thanked him profusely. Our gratitude to him for showing us the way is abiding.
From my early childhood, I had been interested in reading scriptures and works of great thinkers. But when I passed through the Vipassana experience, I realized that mere knowledge of things spiritual and sublime does not help to change one’s attitude or behavior.
I discovered that Vipassana can provide a solution to many of the problems that afflict humanity today. The progress of science and technology has brought great material benefits, but it has also unleashed strain and strife, enormous greed and hatred at the individual, social, national and international levels. Vipassana teaches that all human problems are mind-based. Therefore, even the most complex problems confronting humanity can be resolved if purification of mind is achieved.
I realized that Vipassana is a unique method for transforming the human mind and human behavior. By bringing about a change in attitude, the technique could effect wide-ranging reforms in areas vital for the progress and happiness of humanity.
At the end of the camp, I discussed with Goenkaji the possibility of holding Vipassana camps for government officials to initiate a reform in the administration. He encouraged me by referring to the success of his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin, in similar efforts in Burma. I put the proposal to the Rajasthan Government, and it was decided to make an experiment.
Two camps were organized in the Jaipur Central Jail, both for prisoners and jail officials. Vipassana had a profound effect on the participants. Incidents of violence by prisoners declined considerably; many reported greater calmness and mental balance. On the other hand, officers developed greater sensitivity in performing their duties. The encouraging results led to the organizing of a Vipassana camp at the Jaipur Police Academy, in which police officers of all ranks participated. The course gave many of the participants a clearer perception of their roles and their duty to society. Some who had been addicted to drinking gave it up on their own after the course. They emerged from the experience as virtually new men, their outlook fundamentally changed by Vipassana.
Within the Home Department of the Government of Rajasthan, procedural changes were introduced, with the cooperation of all the staff, to improve efficiency. Similar changes were introduced in the working of the Police Department and the training of police personnel. In effecting these reforms, officers who had participated in Vipassana camps played key roles.
These few experiments indicate the possibility of major governmental reform through Vipassana. Obviously, good government is necessary for the orderly and harmonious functioning of society. But how to achieve good government? Democracy—government by the people—provides a framework. But the government will be good only if those who govern are good. Vipassana is the method for making people good. And good people are needed everywhere—in education, in trade and industry, in all areas of public life.
The message of Vipassana is universal. It transcends all divisions, whether of nation, race, community, or sect. Vipassana courses are open to all and provide a forum in which people of all nationalities and faiths can join in a common endeavor to attain purification of mind. These camps give full expression to the ideal of non-sectarianism and international brotherhood. In them, each person undertakes to work for self-improvement. Anyone who works properly is bound to be successful, experiencing benefits here and now.
This is the process that the world needs, of making a new person—the process of making a good human being.
For me, the first experience of Vipassana marked a turning point in my life. There is no more searching now, the destination is clear. The destination is the Path.
-By S.N. Tandon
Teacher of Vipassana
Former Dy. Home Secretary, Rajasthan.
From earliest childhood, I was always a very timid person. On my way to school I would purposely avoid any route that would bring me into contact with dogs or unruly fellow pupils. In my studies at school, I always came near the top of the class and in Sanskrit, my favourite subject, I gained full marks. Still, when my teachers and family, wanted to give proper recognition to these achievements, I always found some pretext or another to avoid the glare of publicity. For, deep inside, I felt as if some huge error was being made by others when estimating my talents and that sooner or later this would be exposed.
This inferiority complex continued into my college and working life. Despite ample, and repeated, evidence of exceptional abilities, again and again I denied their existence, shrinking from the publicity I feared they would attract and thus failing to capitalize on them for my own and others’ benefit. I have always been a natural student, who loves nothing better than to be surrounded by books. And so it was, during my married life in Delhi, when I was a junior civil servant. Any free time was always taken up in reading and further study. During this period I had the opportunity on several occasions to apply for a post in the Indian Administrative Service, the country’s elite cadre. Despite the recommendations of those who knew me and my capacities well, I staunchly refused to apply, thinking that I was intellectually and personally inadequate to a task, which so many others could perform with ease. In this way, a golden career chance passed me by. Sometime later, I almost repeated the same pattern when posts in the State Administrative Service of Rajasthan were advertised.
Had it not been for the personal intervention of my wife and close friends, who knew my problem and coaxed and cajoled me, I would never have applied for a post, nor would I have taken the entrance examination, nor appeared for the personal interviews. With their understanding and support, I was successful. I was appointed to the State Service, where I worked for 23 years, undertaking a range of challenging assignments in different departments. However, even in my work, I found that this tendency to low self-esteem made me reluctant to accept major responsibilities involving contact with the public, which my colleagues and superiors felt I was competent to tackle.
As a newcomer to the Administrative Service in Rajasthan, I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Shri Ram Singh. This marked the beginning of a close professional and personal relationship, which has brought untold benefits to me. Naturally, when Shri Ram Singh, who was State Home Secretary at the time, with myself as his immediate subordinate, took a Vipassana course with Goenkaji in 1974 and immediately felt much benefited, I also became curious. I took my first course in that same year and continued to practice Vipassana as best I could. However, pressure of work often meant that I was unable to sit daily as regularly as I would like and finding time to take further ten-day courses was also difficult.. For some years, I felt that my progress in Dhamma was inadequate.
After a few years I had the rare opportunity to sit a long course for serious old students at Dhamma Giri. After just a few days of meditation in this deep atmosphere, the truth of my inferiority complex and how it had continuously dogged my life thus far, became clear in my mind. By the end of the course, through the practice of Vipassana, substantial layers of this profound sankhara had evaporated and I felt real progress had been made. And so it has proved, when applied in everyday life: not that this deep-rooted tendency has been completely eradicated, but certainly there is a major improvement which is good both for me and for others. This is evident from the fact that I have since then been able to address more than 30 audiences in India, USA, and U.K. with confidence. I have also conducted workshops for training assistant teachers in conducting Vipassana courses under instructions from Goenkaji, and have led one workshop to encourage study of the Pāli language among Vipassana students.
When a student takes a Vipassana course, there should never be any expectation of particular experiences or outcomes. Rightly, we are told, to practise correctly and to leave the result to Dhamma. However, it is my personal experience, that if someone really wants to go to the depths of the mind to take out the most stubborn complexes, then one or more long courses, when the proper opportunity arises, is a real priority.
(By Javed Raza, an inmate of Tihar Central Prison)
Initially when I came to Tihar Jail I thought it was going to be the worst experience of my life, but thanks to Vipassana, it has turned to be a transforming and blessed experience.
A very useful thing I have learned during the course of my practice is that one has to first destroy one's own peace and harmony, before destroying that of others. But because of the darkness inside one fails to detect the instant misery that arises with the arising of anger, fear, lust or any other defilement. And because of this inner darkness one keeps on defiling one's mind, remaining constantly agitated as a result, and sharing this misery with others all the time. I used to be very good at doing this.
It has been a wonderful discovery to learn at the level of experience that one becomes miserable only when the defilements arise inside, and peace returns the moment impurities clear away! Other people, things and situations are not really responsible for one's unhappiness, the defilements are, and if one can learn to deal with these enemies, as I and a lot of people have, thanks to Vipassana; then no sensory stimuli can make us lose our peace and happiness. This is the straight and narrow path that every religion has been preaching from time immemorial, but only Vipassana teaches how to actually put it into practice. Why isn't everyone else doing Vipassana?
Another thing that I appreciate about Vipassana is that it does not lay undue emphasis on Gurudom, scriptures and mindless rites and rituals. One is encouraged to learn from ones own experience and become ones own Guru. Guru and assistant teachers are there to show the way, but that is as far as it goes. One has to work out ones own salvation.
I have taken nine courses and offered about a year of Dhamma service over the last two and a half years that I have been here. The result of all this work is that now I can smile from the bottom of my heart and also feel compassion for others, something I was not able to do before. I feel like a born again and with a sense of direction and a purpose in life, for the first time.
I have realized that true welfare lies not in struggling to acquire material possessions in life, but in being happy and peaceful at the end of the day and throughout it, and also in sharing with others that happiness, and helping them find the path to achieve it. I am infinitely grateful to Goenkaji for reintroducing the Living-Dhamma to the Land of the Buddhas, and to all the teachers and Dhamma servers of the past and the present, including the greatest teacher, Gotama the Buddha.
May the Dhamma spread all over the world and remain pure, and may I continue developing on the Path and remain a humble servant of the Path till I attain Nibbana.
May all beings be happy!
(The following account was received from an American meditator who is a nurse and teacher)
During a visit to the Vipassana Centre in Jaipur, India in 1986, I had the opportunity to speak with a young man who had participated in the Vipassana course conducted by Goenkaji at the Jaipur Central Jail in 1975. I had been very interested in this experimental course, and so I appreciated the opportunity to hear a first-hand account of it.
He recounted (through an interpreter) that he was imprisoned in 1973, at the age of 22, for the murder of his motherin-law “in a moment of anger.” He was “very shorttempered and prone to much anger” in his life. He had also suffered, since the age of 12, from “an oppressive black spirit that felt like pressure on my throat,” which often prevented him from sleeping. He stated that he took mindaltering drugs from age 15 until his incarceration. After his crime, he was imprisoned in Poona and finally transferred to the Jaipur Central Jail in 1975. In September of that year, he attended the Vipassana course taught by Goenkaji at the Jail.
He recalled that the course made such a deep impression on him that “for three months afterward I was very calm and was doing Vipassana 24 hours a day.... My mind was inside.” Over the next three to four years he experienced a continual decrease of the pressure in his throat, and finally, after four years, this problem disappeared completely. His anger also decreased, improving his family relations and his social relations in general.
In prison, his duties consisted of making factory carpets and working with the prison doctor, looking after special diets for the patients. As the prison authorities saw the changes in his conduct
after the course, they gave him jobs with increased responsibility because of the honesty he displayed. As a prison laborer, he helped with the construction of the new Vipassana Centre outside of Jaipur, and was selected to be in charge of transporting ten to fifteen inmates (murderers), without a guard, to work on the construction crew. He said that other prisoners who took the Vipassana course also gained the trust and confidence of the prison authorities and were given more responsible jobs. Due to his good behavior and good work record, his prison sentence was commuted to 16 years, and later reduced to ten years by the Prison Advisory Board. He was released in 1984.
Since his first course, he has sat several courses and has given service at Jaipur and at Dhammagiri. He said that some of the benefits of Vipassana in his life have included a better understanding of people and improved social relations; the elimination of anger toward his family; enjoyment of his work and the ability to perform it with enthusiasm, no matter what the task; and an ability to face life in general, more calmly and happily.
As a former psychiatric nurse, I was deeply impressed by the psychological changes that had occurred in this man. As a fellow meditator, I was inspired at meeting a person whose life had changed from such extreme misery. Through the help of the Dhamma he has become a productive and happy member of society.
(Goenkaji conducted two courses at the Jaipur Central Jail in 1975 and 1976, attended by 114 and 143 inmates respectively. These experiments were unique in the history of the Indian penal system, and the courses were studied by government and sociological researchers. Results of the study appeared in the August/October 1977 issue of the Maha Bodhi Journal, an abridged version of which appeared in the Vipassana Journal. Following is an excerpt, slightly adapted, from the article “Jails, Criminals and Vipassana” from the Vipassana Journal.)
Concessions granted to prisoners taking part in the ten-day meditation camp included: freshly laundered linens; pure, simple food; open barracks—no locks, no guards; exemption from hard labor; and ten women prisoners participating among the male majority. The jail superintendent had apprehensions about the first four concessions. His fear was that the remaining 1000 or so non-participating prisoners would feel jealous, and might create a row. As for the last concession, the very rules and regulations of the jail demanded that women prisoners always be kept separate from the males, in order to avoid untoward consequences arising from prolonged involuntary celibacy. For this reason, the jail superintendent was particularly hesitant about this proposal.
After long discussion, it was agreed that at least one camp of this meditation be set up precisely according to the principles of the technique. Thus the path for the experiment was cleared.
But before it actually came into being, Shri Ramsingh, Home Commissioner and Secretary, proposed a further dimension to the experiment. He suggested that the 900-1000 non-participating prisoners of the jail should also be present at the discourses given each evening of the course by the Teacher, S.N. Goenka.
Once again, the jail superintendent was taken aback by this proposal. How could he abrogate the clearly stated rules of the jail by allowing a thousand prisoners to congregate in the open, without armed sentries around?
Particularly, how to permit this when several high government authorities and their families would also be attending these discourses? Was it not against the traditions and rules of the jail, which required that any visiting high official be cordoned off by armed guards? Still a further apprehension of the superintendent was that the presence of about a hundred women prisoners in the audience could trigger off disturbances.
Why, in spite of the jail superintendent’s serious apprehensions, was Shri Ramsingh eager to hold at least one meditation camp in the jail? The reason was that the Home Commissioner himself had participated in a Vipassana meditation camp some months before and was much impressed by the results. He felt sure that despite the unprecedented concessions, no untoward incident would occur in the jail during the period of the camp. His confidence proved justified.
After its termination, the jail superintendent reported that there had not been a single disturbance during all the ten days of the camp, neither during the discourse hour, when a thousand prisoners assembled, nor during the rest of the daily routine. This record contrasted sharply with past experiences in the jail, when some 15 - 20 disturbances were reported daily. One can easily appreciate why the 114 prisoners participating in the Vipassana course became peaceful. But what is surprising is that even those thousand prisoners who did not actively perform the practice, merely attending the discourses, also underwent a change, a development in the direction of peace of mind. This change may perhaps be attributed to the inspiration they received from observing the transformation in the meditator-prisoners.
From the state of Haryana, Gurmel Singh entered the world of crime in 1983. He joined the terrorist group of Bhindranawale, and was arrested in Gujarat in 1984, two months prior to the famous operation Blue Star at Amritsar. He was implicated in the largest criminal case in the state, for murder, bank robbery and possession of weapons, and he served a ten-year jail sentence. After serving time in four jails in Haryana and Maharashtra from 1984 to 1992, he had the good fortune to enter Baroda Jail in June '92, and within six months of his entry into the jail he sat his first Vipassana course.
In his own words, "The first three to four days of the course were difficult, aches and pains, an agitated mind, but from the fifth day onwards the body started becoming lighter, and the mind was much better." He said a major transformation occurred in him. The main change he notices is in his thinking, his "wrong thinking", as he said. He gave an example, where this has changed completely -previously, if any officer in the jail said anything to him, his spontaneous thought would be: "Either that officer remains, or I will remain." Anger was always one of his major weaknesses, especially when he had to face views which were contrary to his own. Now he finds that his tolerance of other's views-however different they may be-has increased tremendously as a result of this course.
He said "I was living in hell, but after this course things have changed completely. Revenge was always at the fore in my mind. I used to feel that I would not be at peace until I had chopped off the head of the Nasik session judge who sentenced me. Now I thank the judge, because it was he who sent me to Baroda jail. Instead of being filled with revenge, I am now filled with an immense desire to serve the poor, to serve society, to serve humanity."
He continues his meditation practice daily, at least two to three hours a day , and gains a lot of peace of mind because of the equanimity which results from his daily practice. He called this technique of Vipassana a "sanjivani" herb. This word is very difficult to translate, but it is like a herb which gives life, or has very strong rejuvenative properties. He said "This technique of meditation is mandatory for every human being, not just prisoners. The government is spending lakhs of rupees and imposing all this punishment, but still can't produce any change in the inmates. But one Vipassana course can produce so much change. This may seem unbelievable, but my own case proves this point."
He requested Madam Bedi to send the police personnel who still continue to harass inmates after their release from the jail, to undergo this course. He also said that the administration and the authorities should try and look into the possibility of rehabilitation of the inmates once they have left the prisons., especially occupationally. "They promise, but their promises are not fulfilled."
He ended by saying: "Previously my life was useless, but now I have a new life thanks to Vipassana. I am filled with gratitude towards Baroda jail and I vow not to re-enter the world of crime."
-Written by Mr. Gurmel Singh (Translated from Hindi and summarized)
“When I came out of my course less than a year ago, I had no idea of what I had done. I had no idea of the impact that it would have on my life in the future. Every day I see changes in myselfin how I relate to people, in my own peace of mind, in how I handle situations. I admit I do not practice every day. I try to, and even if I cant sit for an hour, Ill sit a little while, and it helps!
While here at NRF, I was not happy and did not want to be here, obviously. But now I can look back on it with nothing but gratitude for the experience Ive had and for being here while the Vipassana course was offered. It has totally changed my life. I especially want to thank you and your wife for your great part in this, but also the NRF staff and the local Vipassana community. All I can say is, I’m full of gratitude today.”
In one letter, a student inmate quotes from the Dhammapada:
“Let it now be known that Dhamma warriors of Donaldson now offer this declaration: Blessed are we who live among those who hate, hating no one; amidst those who hate, let us dwell without hatred.”
“There has been a very definite impact, even with the correctional officers, and its something that certainly needs to be continued. I firmly believe the visit from Goenkaji had a profound effect on many people here and Im not talking about only inmates. Speaking from personal experience, I must say that Vipassana had the most profound effect I have ever witnessed on a group of inmates. The changes Ive noticed within myself have made a remarkable difference in the way I view things.equanimity. Im able to deal with situations more calmly than before because now I can see everything in a better perspective. I have given myself a substantial period of time to assure myself that everything I experienced during the Vipassana was real and not a passing fancy. Now I can testify that the experiences were indeed real. I continue to practice daily. It has brought about tremendous changes in my life.
I find such peace in sitting daily. Occasionally I sit for two hours in the morning and, as difficult as it may be to believe, the second hour is always better than the first. With this in mind, I have decided to sit through the night this Saturday and Sunday. I plan to begin at 10:00 PM and finish up at 6:00 AM. Vipassana can make such a difference in the collective minds of the men here, which in turn could let society as a whole acknowledge that people can and do change.”
- By Khalid Khan
I belong to a conservative Muslim family from Pakistan. My journey on this spiritual path of self purification began in 1998 when I was desperately searching for a way out from disturbing nightmares. Those were the days of crises. I didn’t realize the answers to my questions were within me. Fortunately, one of my friends spoke about the path of Vipassana meditation in very high words. Since there was no centre in Pakistan, I flew to Nepal in order to attend my first course.
People in my country are quite skeptical and cynical and unfortunately my misconception of this Vipassana technique belonging to a certain sect or religion cost me heavily, and due to my drowsiness during most of the course, and especially at the time of the very important evening video discourse where each and every single word of the discourse is absolutely important and is too costly to neglect. I missed those discourses. I missed a vital chance to understand the essence of this unique technique, and to be aware of the pitfalls and downside if not understood properly.
The first 3 days of the course were to sharpen the concentration of the mind and to make it one pointed, with the remaining 7 days to be used to purify the mind by eradicating the mental defilements and impurities. However, not having understood the proper way of meditation, the first 3 days were pure mental and physical torture. By the fourth day I could barely appreciate the concentration aspect. Encountering these difficulties I remember that on Day 6 I even thought for a moment, “this life is not worth living, it should be ended”. I had no idea how I was going to suffer in this course, not being aware of the challenges of craving, aversion, drowsiness, agitation and doubt.
I recalled Goenkaji’s account regarding ‘doubt’ on the Day 5 discourse. How all kinds of doubt come in the mind, “What is this technique, what will I gain by observing the respiration?” Then observing the heat, observing the perspiration, “What am I doing, what kind of meditation is this?” Another doubt that came was about the teacher, “What kind of teacher is this?” I was expecting a great Guru from India. He didn’t have long matted hair or a beard, no bunches of rosaries around his neck, no mark on his forehead, no paraphernalia of a teacher. “What kind of Guru is he?” In addition, he had no supernatural powers! This is an absolutely accurate narration of how my mind responded at the time.
Throughout the course, I clearly remember, I had a countdown timer on my watch showing how many hours were left. Every passing day, I was drawing hope from my watch’s countdown. So, when the course ended it was liberation from pure misery. I returned disappointed and empty handed from the course. I felt disappointment and resentment towards the Vipassana technique for the next 3 years.
Later in the year 2000, I kept revisiting Goenkaji’s explanation on the characteristic of phenomena. I realized that what he said was in fact a universal truth. We constantly come across these phenomena of impermanence, egolessness, suffering, etc. As a result of this my thirst for the truth intensified. In order to know more about the cause of suffering and the way out of suffering, I started listening more intently to Goenkaji’s audio discourses again, and I remember very clearly that his account was so interesting that I started writing down his each and every word, sentence by sentence. In fact I managed to listen to and transcribe the entire 11 days of discourses. Only later on I came to know that these discourses had already been made available in a booklet.
This study inspired me to sit a course in Indonesia and give Vipassana one more try. Unfortunately, right before the course my sleep/wake timings were 180 degree opposite what was required in the course. I was sleeping at 4 am and waking up very late and suddenly on the first day of the course I had to wake up at 4 am. This was a perfect ‘jet lag’ without even crossing time zones, and a big mistake on my part as I had to go through a very unfavorable ride. Due to very severe drowsiness I quit on Day 3. I discovered that my strong determination was nowhere near the required resolve. The lesson learned was to make sure to calibrate the sleep/wake timings before the course and avoid filling the stomach, and reducing sugary food so that I would not succumb to drowsiness. I continued the mundane life but with more consistent reflection.
By 2003, I had decided to sit another course at Dhamma Dhara Massachusetts and finally made up my mind that quitting was not an option. Therefore, on my third try I didn’t quit but the course was very tough because as yet I didn’t understand the mind and body phenomena properly.
In 2006, I took my eldest sister with me to attend a 10 days course at Dhammagiri, Igatpuri, India. On Day 6, while I was meditating alone in a cell I had a surprising meditation session, and the impurities of the mind started manifesting on the body with severe jerks and jolts in the neck and arms, resulting in me jumping 2 inches off the floor. However I kept observing sensations with an equanimous mind. After an hour of this session, when I came out of the cell, to my surprise I realized that the cervical pain for which I had been taking pain killers and physiotherapy and other treatments for 2 years, was gone. This experience gave me quite an insight into this technique. After returning from India, I sat another course in Thailand where I explored further the deeper aspect of this meditation where in spite of severe muscular pain in the legs and back, the mind was absolutely tranquil, serene and calm.
Later on, I attended a number of 10 day and long courses in Singapore, England, and the USA and recently I just returned from a long course in Sri Lanka. These days, I am practicing 3 to 4 hours daily. I have a strict rule – no meditation, no breakfast! (I even posted this on the wall for a few months). So food is not taken unless I meditate at the beginning of the day and after honoring this rule, I reward myself with my favorite chocolate. A reward for self improvement!
The attraction of the Vipassana technique for me is the fact that it relies on the universal law of cause and effect. It does not encourage ‘escape’ from the challenges of the life. This meditation starts with the gross reality of pains and discomforts and helps us penetrate and transcend misery and experience the ultimate reality which is the ever changing and impermanent phenomenon of mind and matter.
Another appeal of Vipassana that I appreciate is its compatibility with my Religion. This technique helps us become established in morality, concentration of the mind, and experiential wisdom, all of which facilitate my faith. The phenomenon of equanimity especially is well-matched and well suited with Islam. ‘Equanimity’ is the message of our fasting month of Ramzan.
Back in the 1990s I was quite a religious person, punctually offering my daily prayer. But due to an ever worsening agitated mind, I gave up my prayers for almost a decade. But thanks to this technique not only have I restarted these prayers, but now there is a quality in them which is improving gradually step by step. I used to attain intellectual, analytical wisdom by following my faith and religion, but the wisdom based on direct personal experience which I have gained came only by exploring this unique technique. This technique has also helped in establishing strong determination, selfless love, compassion and sympathetic joy which is very supportive for social management in daily life as well.
When I consider the other benefits of this scientific, non sectarian and rational technique, regardless of the miserable mundane world, there is more hope now to live moment by moment with a base of insight and mindfulness. I have a more positive and optimistic perspective on life. All of my challenges are not solved yet. First, I can fairly say that, if I was heading for a collision at 1,000 mph, now it is 100 mph. Applied from time to time, the momentary break of awareness with equanimity is decreasing the velocity, and the high speed manufacturing factory of making defilements and negativities is slowing down.
Interestingly it took some time for me to understand that the purpose of this technique is to change and train the behavior pattern of the subconscious mind, not to blindly react towards what is unwanted or undesirable with ‘aversion’, and not to blindly react towards what is wanted or desirable with ‘craving’. But to observe the changing and impermanent phenomenon of mind and body through the help of respiration and sensations, and come out of ‘attachment’ to this ever changing phenomenon, because attachment and suffering are two sides of the same coin. Anything that we are attached to, sooner or later will end or pass away, and when it ends we are going to miss it and this separation will bring nothing but misery. This is how we keep reacting day and night, throughout the life.
Last but not least, the strict discipline and timetable, especially ‘noble silence’, was enormously helpful to calm down the chattering mind. In the course we learn how to free the mind of the tensions and prejudices that disturb the flow of daily life.
A course in Vipassana meditation is an opportunity to take concrete steps toward one’s liberation. To others who happen to read this, it is hoped that this article will provide encouragement to participate in a Vipassana course and to taste real peace, real harmony and true happiness.
Finally, I cannot be thankful enough to the chain of Teachers, Goenkaji, all the Assistant Teachers and Dhamma workers who devoted selflessly their precious time and energy and worked hard to serve me with the feelings of pure compassion and loving kindness and to help me sit the courses and become more established in Vipassana. May all beings be liberated from all of their suffering and be happy.
-By a Vipassana meditator
I sat my first Vipassana course in 1989 after my sister came to visit. The change in her behaviour and attitude was so dramatic after her first course that I decided to go. Three weeks after I returned home from my course, my husband decided to sit one as well.
Vipassana has changed everything about my life for the better but the most dramatic example came in 1995 when I had an accident in the mountains. I fell about 200 feet down a steep rocky slope where I was stranded, unable to move and in great pain for over 24 hours. I was with a friend who cared for me overnight and then she hiked out and sent a helicopter to take me to hospital. I was left without the use of my arms or legs for many months and only gradually learned to walk again. I still have some physical difficulties, not least of which is sitting for any length of time and that has meant I do not sit regular courses very often.
Ten months later I was quite well recovered when my car was run off the road by a drunk driver. I again found myself in hospital and in a wheelchair for a time. Eventually I regained partial recovery of my physical body. I had premonitions of a sort before both accidents and knew that something was wrong. Yet I was unable to avoid either accident. Even though the physical difficulties have been great and are with me every day, the experience on the whole was of profound benefit to me.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to Goenkaji and to all my teachers and my sister for bringing Vipassana into my life. Vipassana was a lifeline for me during the entire experience and continues to give me the strength to deal with life in a more balanced way. During the first few weeks of my hospital care I was unable to do anything but meditate all of my waking hours. Mostly it was Anapana but I was somehow focussed on my deep internal self. I do believe that it was what kept me alive. Without Vipassana I am certain I would not have been able to face my destiny in such a way. Everyday, no matter how or when I am sitting, Vipassana is with me. I am forever grateful.
A Unique Experience
I was attracted to Vipassana after reading "The Art of Living" by Bill Hart. The peace and joy that I experienced at the end of my first course at Dhamma Giri, Igatpuri in February 1992 was unique. Since then, I have attended six courses.
I approached my first four courses with a great deal of fear at the thought of sitting for long hours because I had been suffering from ankylosing spondylosis for 20 years. During my fourth course, the assistant teacher brought to my awareness my great aversion to pain. This helped me to become more equanimous. During the course I was cured of iritis (which causes inflammation and pain in the eyes) that had been recurring since 1983. Thereafter I became even more enthusiastic about the technique and have encouraged many other sisters to attend the course. They too have found the meditation very helpful.
Practicing Vipassana has enabled me to become more aware of my emotions and negative feelings; specially anger, lack of forgiveness, and my aversion to pain and suffering. Becoming aware of these have helped me to overcome them to a great extent through Vipassana meditation and to enjoy peace and harmony in my life. Whenever I am in tension, I resort to this meditation and that helps me to look at the problem in a more objective way. This is also assisting me in my physical healing.
As a Christian nun, I find Vipassana an excellent method of prayer. The purification of mind by meditation makes it possible for me to come in touch with the source of love, joy, forgiveness and compassion within me, that is, the presence of God in my heart. Jesus Christ has said, "Happy are the pure in heart, they shall see God." The spirit of detachment and equanimity in the face of joys and sorrows, pleasure and pain is what Jesus also taught to His followers when He asked them to surrender everything to God. "Father, Thy Will be done."
-By Mr. Atul Shroff
In the seventies I was searching for something tangible, something I can't name, which would help me find myself, make me understand myself. I tried many ways--yoga, meditation, est--going from one "guru" to another. From each I learnt something special, a new dimension, but none of them gave me a "wholistic" outlook towards life--a wholistic dimension towards feeling and thinking.
It was in 1989 that I first came across the technique of "Vipassana" and undertook a course in Igatpuri. During the programme I knew that this was what I had been looking for. The change that I felt was wholesome. My mental as well as my physical status underwent a change.
Physically, the addiction of tobacco was broken; I no longer felt like using it, although I started again three months later. Mentally, there was a new dimension to my thinking and perception, an experience completely out of this world. Unlike in other programmes, the learning was all self-based. I did not have to depend on others to help me. I could move at my own pace, and also not feel threatened by others, which helped me understand myself honestly. I also did not need the support of others in my problem solving.
The second time I went for a course was in December 1993. All my harmful habits are almost eliminated now, and that without any pain. My ability to cope with stress has been enhanced. One manifestation of this is greater courage in facing negativity. Recent economic liberalization has had a great negative impact on my industry. I have taken this with minimal stress. Also I have encouraged the organization to take this as a challenge and to face the new realities squarely, rather than lying low.
I have found that Vipassana opens my mind--empties it and makes it receptive. I am then able to fill this with positive suggestions. I used to employ "auto-suggestions" and similar techniques. Now the positive suggestions given to the mind are more effective.
I have ongoing moral and ethical values and social involvement from my family background. The industrial relations in our company have been built on strong trust, resulting in no strikes for more than two decades. Now with Vipassana I see these strengthening and deepening. This arises from direct experience of purity rather than a handed-down norm or habit.
So much for myself. My experience concerning others in my industry is as below:
1. Quite a few have given up smoking tobacco, although some of them have started again.
2. There is a softer, quieter look on their faces.
3. They listen more and are better understood.
4. Some have been able to control their anger.
5. They spend less time in emotional reaction.
6. There is more patience and tolerance.
7. Our meetings are more quiet and calm.
8. There are many who can work for longer hours with more concentration.
9. There is decreased irritability.
10. There are many who have found some relief from pain related to backaches, headaches, acidity and other physical ailments.
11. Those around them feel the meditators are more approachable, acceptable and likeable.
We have introduced one hundred and forty-two employees to the Vipassana
programme. They have been mostly staff, with some workmen also.
Our aim is to introduce three hundred more employees to the technique in this financial year.
-by Graham Gambie
The thought arises that nearly twelve years have now gone past since my first tremulous arrival in India. Twelve years. Difficult to understand how it all happened or even what actually happened, but one thing is certain and that is that it did happen. Twelve years.
And who was this person who arrived, driven out of his sanity by all the horrors of Western life and by his own loveless existence as well; with so many disappointments, with so many failed romances, with such a high opinion of himself and with such a monstrous collection of memories and fears? What happened to this ape-like ancestor? The question often arises. It does not seem possible that he disappeared. That would be too much to hope for. It seems more likely that he never existed at all beyond the bundle of miseries and false hopes. What actually disappeared were the sufferings of yesterday and what remains are the sufferings of today: the decay into middle age, the inability to adjust to reality, the shoddy burden of failed ambitions and the passions, the talkativeness.
But over the years has it become any easier to accept the anonymous nature of these miseries — to see that the present person is as unreal as his ludicrous predecessor? Oh no. Who gives in willingly to his own ego death? Who gives up the ghost smilingly, without a struggle? Perhaps that is why there is so little love in the world. All we know are these two phantoms “You” and “I’, and not the dissolution of both, which is love.
It is not claimed that in twelve years love and joy have taken full command of a mind so infested with negativities. But certainly much of the heat of hate has died down, a lot of the tension has unwound itself and much of the fear hidden within has disappeared. Having the power to produce the problem gives the right to apply for the remedy also. And the only cure for agitations of one kind or another is silence. Looking back, it seems the real journey was not from one country to another but from agitation to silence; from doing everything and achieving nothing, to doing nothing and letting everything occur. The more simple it is, the more difficult it is to understand. Only the silent mind can see things as they are and this is the first and last step, the one and only thing to do, the letting be of being.
So many years spent just sitting as silently as possible, experiencing the terrifying collection of sensations, dreams, graspings, and fears that somehow have given rise to the idea of “Me.” Those who have never tried might imagine meditation to produce all kinds of ecstasies, spiritual visions, illuminations and the kinds of things that the books are full of. But the real peace is the relief from the terrifying banalities of everyday life, the petty likes and dislikes, the interminable conversations of the mind, the wished for, the lost, the abandoned.
And behind all that, is there anything beyond? Yes: a simple life getting simpler — an ordinary man finding the real peace and happiness where he never looked before, in the ordinary things of life. There are no “ordinary” things of life. Coming to your senses out of your dreams, you find the ordinary is quite miraculous and the miraculous quite ordinary. It is only then that you realize, as one poet put it, that you are alive in search of life.
There is no magic or miracle beyond plain awareness. What can be more magical than a mind crystal clear, motionless, silent? What can be more miraculous than to be beyond both the search for pleasure and the avoidance of fear? But many think that magic shows are given only on stage or by some bearded guru, without understanding that they themselves are the magic, the magician, the theatre, the audience and the world too for that matter.
Who, living, has escaped the miseries and pleasures of this beastly/blissful world? Why bother to try? And who will seek security in the world where everything passes and where every final payment is a handful of dust? What one cannot change, that one must accept. The choice is to accept it with good or bad grace. How your life would change if you could smile at everything!
Meditation then, like love, is not something that can be twisted to suit the ugly dictatorship of the “I.” It has practical by-products, but again like love, its end result is a dissolution of the ego and its prison, the world. It is its own end, as love is its own reward. Achievements, success, prestige, and saving the world are all in the domain of the “Me” that wants so much and is capable of so little.
A superficial view of life can see only the miseries, which produce pessimism, or pleasures, which produce a feeling of optimism. But the thought occurs that the miseries of this mind were most valuable, since it was due to the unbearable pain that the search began for a cure. And the pleasures too were so helpful — through their briefness and unsatisfactory nature the desire arose to take the medicine, bitter as it is. Beyond hope and fear — the Truth. And slowly, ever so slowly, came the understanding that the disease is only in the mind.
To whom should one attribute all that has happened? Who can take the praise or blame for the inevitable? The law of the Truth is a homeless orphan who has the disturbing habit of turning up anywhere, anytime, completely uninvited, clothed in the strength of meekness, deafening in silence, invincible and empty-handed. This child is you and me.
And now what is to be done? Where to go from here? Where is forwards, where back? What to do with all these possibilities and tomorrow? When we can obviously take it no more, shall we go on taking it? When will enough be enough? When will we stop to listen to the poet singing the last song:
In the rising of the light
wake with those who awake
Or go on in the dream
reaching the other shore
Of the sea which has no other shore.
(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, September 1986)
-by Shravan Kumar Agarwal
In 1975, when I was thirty years old. I was diagnosed as having progressive muscular dystrophy. This disease attacks the muscle cells so that the protractile muscles gradually weaken and degenerate. The patient loses control of his limbs and is forced to live as an invalid confined to bed. No cure has yet been found for this painful malady.
The news of my illness threw me into turmoil. A future of unrelieved darkness seemed to await me, and faced with this prospect I developed great tensions within. In desperation I tried all sorts of treatments—ayurvedic, homeopathic, and nature-cure—but nothing gave me any relief. Instead the malady worsened day by day. By 1979 I had trouble standing up, walking, and using my hands. It was clear that I would soon be bed-ridden.
At this point some friends who had learned Vipassana urged me to join a course, and I did so in November1979. The ten days’ work produced slight but unmistakable signs of improvement in my condition. Greatly encouraged, I undertook many courses in succession. The process of revivification became all the more clear, inspiring me with hope. I struggled hard to meditate as I was told, in order to gain a new lease on life.
Now, after several years of meditation practice, the changes that have come seem almost miraculous. Previously, walking a few steps had been a painful ordeal. Now I can easily walk as much as a kilometer, though at a slow pace. Climbing stairs had been very difficult; now I can easily climb flights of 25-30 stairs. Traveling by bus or train for two or three hours used to exhaust me; now I can take much longer journeys without becoming tired. The circulation in my legs has improved. The atrophy of bodily extremities has been reversed. The joints of my legs have expanded and the muscles have begun to regenerate and gain in strength, rendering me capable of easier movement.
Doctors are baffled by the improvement in my condition, but I have no doubt that it is the result of the process of Vipassana at work within me. I can describe the process only in terms of my experience in meditation. As I sit with eyes closed, I feel a flow of subtle vibrations like wavelets, a mild and soothing electric current throughout the body, including the parts affected by my disease. Wherever there are blockages, these waves seem to strike against the ipediments in the muscle fibers, nerve tissues, and bony structures, causing them to open and expand. It is like the current of a river striking against a rock that blocks its course. The rock deflects the water, causing it to flow over, around, or under the obstruction. Gradually, however, the water succeeds in shaking and moving the rock, in pulverizing and finally disintegrating it. When it is gone the river flows smoothly, unimpeded.
The process of Vipassana has affected me in other ways as well. Mental tensions have subsided to a great extent, and my dread of the future has lessened. I used to become agitated when I encountered difficulties in life, making myself more and more unhappy. Now I have acquired the strength to face problems smilingly. Within me there is a constant feeling of good will for others. My tolerance and working efficiency have increased greatly. Relations with my family, which had been strained, now have improved as Vipassana has improved my behavior pattern.
All these changes add up to a greater feeling of happiness. It is as if a dead person has come to life again, and all through the blessing of the Dhamma.
I am deeply indebted to my great benefactor Goenkaji for giving me the Dhamma and guiding me on the path. Now I strive to the best of my ability to lead a life of Dhamma.
May all sentient beings of the world be happy and peaceful!
-by Mr. S. Adaviappa
(Mr. S. Adaviappa, a senior assistant teacher of S. N. Goenka, was formerly employed as a high official in the government of India. After his retirement he was appointed to the Public Service Commission of the state of Rajasthan. This body selects and appoints governmental officials. Mr. Adaviappa later served as chairman of the Commission.)
About ten years ago, my wife Parvathamma was diagnosed as having motor neuron disease, a rare condition which is considered incurable. Treatment by allopathic, homeopathic, ayurvedic and naturopathic doctors did not produce any results. She experienced a gradual wasting of the muscles of her arms, thighs, legs and neck. She required assistance with even normal activities. Her helplessness caused her tension and strain, and she became gloomy and wept frequently.
It was a heartrending situation for us. But everyone in the family took care that she was not put to any discomfort and that there was never any opportunity for her to feel neglected. All our efforts went toward keeping her spirits up. But she would still break down whenever a friend or relative called on her.
It was at this stage, about four years into the illness, that my wife took a Vipassana course in Jaipur under the guidance of Goenkaji. She found the first day most trying. But with loving fellow meditators around her, she put up with the hardship with a smile. On Vipassana day, she was a changed person. She experienced a flow of subtle sensations throughout the body. She was beaming with joy, and felt she had gained strength throughout her body. Her retreat proved a most beneficial ten-day sojourn.
For the following months, she practiced her meditation regularly in spite of the limitations of her physical condition. I was away at Ajmer due to my official work, but I used to join her in meditation whenever I visited Jaipur. She was also helped by two tapes of Goenkaji’s Pāli chanting, and visits from other local meditators.
After the Vipassana session, her nature changed completely. Joy emanated from her. People who came to console her went back carrying peace. She never complained about her illness to anybody. Neither did she express regret about her miserable condition. She made frequent loving and compassionate enquiries about the welfare of the visitors and their family members, wishing them happiness and joy.
The disease progressed quickly. She experienced a rapid deterioration of her muscles. Her face continued to beam with a radiant smile, although her body below the neck was a pitiful heap of bones and shrunken muscles. She continued her meditation throughout this period.
On the 13th of January, 1985, about thirty hours before her death, Parvathamma made a fervent wish to the family members to pardon her for any harsh words she might have spoken while they were attending her. She said she was very fortunate to have such a kind family. She was given a glucose drip and oxygen for three days, and underwent extreme pain. However, she retained full control of her faculties.
The disease had spread to the muscles of her heart and lungs. She was unable to sleep for three days and nights because she would be overcome by coughing if she were moved from the sitting position in the wheelchair. On the night of the 14th, she had a comparatively peaceful sleep in the wheelchair. Whenever she woke up, she would ask those sitting by her side to take rest. She also asked whether the others in the family were sleeping.
On the morning of the 15th, she was cheerful and took some milk. But at about 7:15 a.m., she had a bout of coughing, which she always dreaded. She felt suffocated and asked me to send for the doctor. The doctor turned up in fifteen minutes. Just as he was at the doorstep, her last breath went out along with a cough. In her last moment, she had a clear mind and passed away peacefully, casting compassionate glances on those of us standing around her.
We have learned from Goenkaji that our practice is also a preparation for dying. Our family’s experience is a testimony to this.
Through her equanimity in the midst of severe suffering, my wife was in control of her faculties even during the extreme pain of dying. This has been a great inspiration to all of us, and those of us who are meditators have applied Dhamma more seriously. By determined effort and regular practice, we have been helped to weather the shock of the tragic loss of this loving soul. We are regularly sending mettā to her with wishes for her freedom from all suffering.
-By Ronald Pocsik
Indeed my life has changed. The Buddha did say that there are two types of worldly life that a human being is liable to. The first, the physical ills and the second the mental ills. He went on to say that there are some beings who will escape the physical ills but there will be very few who will escape those most painful ills of the mind. It is remembered that prior to my study of this most wonderful technique of Vipassana Meditation, my life was in a total state of confusion. One might say that my life could be compared to a chicken without a head. Running, running to and fro with never the mindfulness of the What For. Now, let me say that this technique of Vipassana Meditation does not offer any short-cut remedies to mental health but with hard work and faith in what one is doing many beneficial results should and will become noticed. There was a time in my life when any and all forms of escapism were sought after as a means to an end: how foolish were these illusions. But because of a lack of knowledge as to the actual content of this human life and that there actually are methods of stabilising these foolish mental activities into most beneficial ones an escape was always sought.
From drugs to alcohol, sex to travelling, any form of how to get away from the unpleasantries of mind were all sought. However, after a while it was noticed that no matter what was indulged in no real permanent satisfaction was gained and the more that one received the more one would want with never any real end in sight. Now all this misguided energy has finally found a way to become channelled into right perspective, a Path of Purification of these wrong views to a more healthy natural way of living life. The wonderful part of it is that it was never any further away than the tip of my nose. From confusion to concentration—what need we more!
Let me also say that I am living in society; as a matter for the record my home is located in the most industrial, polluted and populated state in America. It can be said with an open heart that this most wonderful technique along with right effort has transformed a body of confusion into a person who is leading a much more healthier and happier life as a result. Where once running away from myself was the method, a holding still and working out these unpleasantries is now being followed. My vocation in the world is that of a Social Worker and all the many intense situations that get presented to me are understood and worked out with a much more balanced state of mental facilities. To conclude, if one feels lonely and empty inside and confusion is the only course of mind, why not sit down and give yourself some space to observe the true nature of these mental disturbances which are the wrong views which we all so easily acquire.
MAY ALL BEINGS TRULY BE LIBERATED!
By Tom Savage
I began practising Vipassana in December 1970. At that time I suffered from grand mal epilepsy, smoked charras twelve hours a day, hated myself and the world, was uncleanly and was kept from pursuing my career by my negativities.
I am happy to say that after five years of Vipassana I’ve learned to recognise the onset of attacks. I’m no longer dependent upon intoxicants, no longer hate the world, keep myself clean and have begun to climb the rungs to success in my chosen profession, writer. This past summer I was a teaching assistant to Allen Ginsberg at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve had poems published in ten or twelve magazines, a short story of mine (on Ananda) will be published next January. I’m the co-editor of a new literary magazine called Roof and have read my work in many places in New York and Boulder. My association with the Dhamma was instrumental in allowing me to advance. My practice of Vipassana (U Ba Khin tradition) has been instrumental in helping me deal with my illness, beginning to act creatively in the world and giving me the balance of mind and concentration necessary to produce better writing and to begin to find an audience for it among my literary masters and my peers.
When I left America I hated my mother. Now she and I get along fairly well and I’m beginning at last to assume my social responsibilities as a citizen, a man and a son. That Vipassana has helped me look beyond my own ego for the answers to my problems has been instrumental in bringing this about. I’ve begun to face my problems rather than run from them. While Vipassana is no panacea, no cure all, it has allowed me the psychic space inside to confront my own weaknesses, assess the damage done by my past actions and to begin moving in the right direction.
I was advised by a friend in April 1973 to attend a course on ‘Vipassana Sadhana’ (Meditation) which was then being conducted. After initial hesitation, as any common person with responsibilities of life will naturally have, I attended the course for the first time at Madras, the duration of which was for a period of ten days. Till that time, I had been suffering from chronic headache, constipation and many other ailments. While going in for the 10 day course, the only object in my mind was to get away, for a short time of course, from the routine of life and devote myself solely to spiritualism. After the completion of the course, I could, not only divert my energies towards better thinking but was also benefitted a great deal physically. I got rid of my chronic and some other ailments, like a miracle happening at the command of a supernatural being. As the time passes out, the power of concentration in me is increasing significantly.
This course which is normally of 10 days’ duration, is conducted during periodic intervals by a gentleman, affectionately known as Kalyanmitra (well wisher), free of cost, as a part of service to humanity. He comes from a family of big business house and was once himself a victim of serious and incurable ailment depending
for his existence entirely on morphine injections. He underwent best available medical treatment in various foreign countries but with no positive result. It was by chance that he was persuaded by some of his friends to participate in a 10 day Vipassana course camp and he got complete cure after going through this technique. After getting rid of this incurable disease and after having enjoyed the fruits of Sadhana, he has now made it his mission of life for the past so many years to share this precious gem with others. Leaving the business responsibilities to his brothers and children, he is now devoting almost all his time entirely to the cause of teaching Vipassana Sadhana.
You will be inquisitive to know as to what really this ‘Vipassana Sadhana’ means to a lay man and what is its object? Vipassana (Vipashyana) means special vision, i. e. vision of the ultimate truth. Nevertheless, different people call it the manifestation of vibratory force, Pranic energy, Mental power, Chit Shakti, Vital force, Life force, etc. etc. Like physical exercise, it teaches us the technique of training the mind. In other words, it is a technique which invokes the power to control mind with the object of promoting one’s physical, spiritual and over-all growth and well-being. While man has mastery over matter, he still lacks mastery over his mind. When a person focuses his attention into his own self by way of Vipassana Sadhana (introspective meditation) and makes an analytical study then, he understands the true nature of the mind and then by constant practice he is able to eradicate slowly all the evil tendencies of the mind. With the constant practice of Sadhana, one becomes ‘conscious’ by controlling the ‘sub-conscious’ and the ‘unconscious’ self within. The mind has an inherent tendency to keep on moving all the time, thinking either of the past or the future. It never wants to stay in the present. It also keeps looking ‘outside’, refusing to see one’s own self or ‘inside’. This Sadhana aims at keeping your mind ‘within’ yourself and in the ‘present’.
Having examined the objects of this technique, let me explain the impact or the effect of the technique on the Sadhaks or those who practise the same. Needless to say that the technique (Vipassana) aims at restoring complete mental peace and happiness on the Sadhaks by a process of reducing and ultimately eradicating the causes that lead to uneasiness and tensions. It is an established fact that most of the physical ailments which make life miserable are of mental origin, mostly unconnected with bacterial infection, deficiencies or other causes. There have been a number of cases where people through Vipassana were cured from diseases like Blood pressure, Heart-attack, Ulcers, Asthma, Sleeplessness, Migrainic headache, Tuberculosis, Cancer etc.
People not only from, this country but those drawn from different lands such as Burma, Malaysia, USA, UK, Germany and many other nations also take part in Vipassana Sadhana. Also people from different walks of life, such as chief Justices, Scientists, Psychologists, Businessmen, Professors, Industrialists, Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Politicians, Sarvodaya workers, Students and people frustrated in life from here and abroad have learnt this technique and have obtained satisfaction and benefitted by it. Young and old, men and women irrespective of any caste, creed, faith, class, community, country or language group can join this course. It is universal for all human beings for all times and all places because all human beings are victims of the same illness manifesting itself in different ways and forms, the remedy of which is therefore equally applicable to all. This path does not teach us to run away from the problems. The house-holders and the other common people who have to face the hard realities of life, get the necessary strength by this Sadhana and they face it with peace and equanimity of mind. In short it teaches us the ART OF LIVING & MAKING LIFE PURPOSEFUL.
Not only myself, but a number of persons have got the firm opinion that this Sadhana is the easiest and the best to change the mental attitude of the mankind. The real happiness cannot be experienced merely by reading highly philosophical or religious books or by listening to thought-provoking discourses. The key process consists in transforming our thoughts which ultimately affect our words and actions. In fact
the Bliss could be experienced but cannot be explained.
May you enjoy happiness and peace throughout.
-By Shyam Sundar Taparia
In March 1971, I underwent a camp with Shri Goenka. My experiences and attainments since should easily interest anybody who is seeking peace of mind and revival of health that is sagging for want of it.
Let me briefly provide a picture of what I was before March 1971. I was 33 years of age, but devoid of any enthusiasm.
Life was a burden for me. I had an annihilated will-power. Lack of confidence in myself kept me in indecision, affecting the business. Family relationship and life was in a bad shape—one of fully choked up communication channel. Health was poor and weak. This was leading to chronic illness adding to my debility.
I arrived a day late in the camp but was fortunate to get good insight and practice of Vipassana. I can still recall the vibrating ‘Metta’ en masse in my body on the 9th day of the camp. Cleansing was so deep and thorough that I could easily keep up my daily sittings in the morning and evening even after the camp. I could even perceive the changes in sensations that took place within my body when I got disturbed or agitated. The ‘perception’ helped me to overcome the same. I have kept up the practice largely regular. I have attended four full camps so far besides some very brief self-courses.
My present picture, as perceived by me, is that I am fully confident of myself. Much of my fears and anxieties are gone. Whatever remain are weak currents and are perceived at a very subtle level of sensations. I am full of positive energy and am able to convert most business and family situations, including very difficult ones, into purposeful and constructive ones. Family relationship is improving. Few illnesses have visited me during this time, and the ones that have, caused, much less suffering, and weakness in the body. Now I enjoy a rather good health.
In the true tradition of Lord Buddha, the teacher S. N. Goenka keeps on emphasizing that the student shall have to work out his own salvation; the teacher can only show the path. This is quite understandable because he wants to discourage the tendency of building up a personality cult or Gurudom which is quite common in our country. With this blind faith the student starts depending more on the teacher without working on his own.
In this discourse, Mr. S. N. Goenka explains transformation of an individual from misery to happiness through practice of Vipassana meditation.
In this discourse, Mr. Goenka explains Vipassana as a science of mind and matter and its role in curing psychosomatic problems
In this discourse, Mr. S. N. Goenka explains this technique of self observation and how it plays an important role in curing ailments and in freedom from addictions
In 2009, a short film was produced that describes how senior business leaders in India from across industries & sectors cope with uncertainty and change in a challenging market environment. In a series of candid interviews, senior executives discuss how the practice of Vipassana meditation enables them to more effectively manage their own stress, increase employee engagement and productivity, face the pressures of competition, and make decisions from a base of personal wisdom and authenticity.
In the Spring of 2002 Mr. Goenka conducted the first course especially for business executives and government officials following a conference held in New York City on "Spirituality in Business." Harmony in Business is a short film about this conference, Mr. Goenka's comments during the conference and interviews with participants after the meditation course is available in English
In 2005, a film consisting primarily of interviews with business executives and government officials was made during and following an Executive Course held at the Vipassana Meditation Centre in New South Wales near Sydney Australia. This film explains the many reasons people involved in business activities find the practice of Vipassana helpful for them in dealing with the ups and downs and stresses of business life.
In January 2000, Goenkaji was invited to speak at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos, Switzerland, in front of global leaders. Goenkaji spoke in the gathering in various sessions on "The Future of Religion", "Death: Exploring the Taboo", "Anger and How to Deal with It" and "The Meaning of True Happiness. In this interview, Mr. Goenka explains his journey as a sucessful businessman and role of Vipassana meditation in his life.