no need to suffer (one path to liberation)

5 11 2009

I recently completed one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I want to tell you about it. It’s called Vipassana, which means “seeing things as they are”. Vipassana is the meditation technique taught by the historical Buddha. At birth he was named Siddhartha Gotama, but once he became ‘fully enlightened’ or ‘liberated’, he was given the title Buddha. “Buddha” means “the qualities of enlightenment”, and EVERY thing has Buddha nature, sometimes referred to as our “higher self” or “true self”, or what is meant by saying “we were made in the image of god”—-our spark, our essence, this is The Buddha. There is nowhere and no time The Buddha is not. Vipassana helps awaken each of our Buddha nature.

All around the world, there are hundreds of Vipassana centers, all maintained by volunteers and donations. There is no charge to learn and practice Vipassana, but because enlightenment is for the good for all beings, generosity (in any form) is highly encouraged. Learn more about the centers and the technique at http://www.dhamma.org

So here’s what I experienced: 10 days of silence, without reading, writing, music, or intoxicants, meditating for 10+ hours a day. Vegetarian meals were provided every day.

Sound like torture? It is… and it’s the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.

One cannot overcome a fear of heights without going up high. Likewise, one cannot be liberated from suffering without suffering; so we sit still for 10 hours a day to learn what we can endure (with periodic breaks, of course).

Here’s the science behind the technique: We are psychosomatic creatures, comprised of a mind and a body. We interact as follows: First, by being alive and awake, we are conscious—-we’re on. Then, we perceive, through our 6 senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and thought), the world around us. Most people think that after we perceive some thing, we react to it, but there is a step in between perception and reaction, and it is this step Vipassana focuses on. After perception, the body experiences physical sensations, perhaps heat, perhaps cold, perhaps pain, perhaps joy, perhaps tingling, perhaps numbness, etc. It is these sensations, not the stimulus, which induces a reaction. Things stimulate sensations, but it is our subjective sensations we react to, not the things.

Over time, we develop preferences for certain sensations and prejudices against others. Habitually repeating our reactions to these preferences and prejudices, we develop craving and aversion, and it is this habit-pattern of the mind to cling to craving what we like and to cling to abhorring what we don’t like that causes us to suffer during the vicissitudes of life. Vicissitudes are ups and downs, the changes that are the natural way of life. Sometimes we have what we want, sometimes we don’t—-everything changes. The reason we suffer from change is that we cling to certain sensations. Freedom from suffering, liberation, is learning to be equanimous throughout change, whatever sensation we experience, be it pleasant or unpleasant.

So we sit still for 10 hours a day for 10 days. It is not always pleasant. There were days I wanted to go home, and I hated Vipassana; but I didn’t react. I sat there and objectively observed my impatience, the pain in my stiff body, the mental and physical resistance, and sometimes the joy and excitement; but we learn not to identify with the impersonal sensations—-“No ‘I’, no ‘me’, no ‘my'”; it just is what it is—-we are the objective observer, and we practice not reacting.

See, we are like a rope that gets twisted in a loop every time we react. When we don’t react, the rope untwists, and all the old twists, the deep-rooted addictions and aversions we have, come to the surface. Over the 10 days, I faced many demons I did not realize I had living inside me. Sometimes it was scary, often it was challenging. But by not reacting for 10 days, it became incredibly liberating, enlightening, and rejuvenating; and those demons, while they may still be part of me, no longer control me as much as they used to,

because I can acknowledge them,
and I can accept them.

Vipassana develops two things, and like  two wings of a bird, or two tires of a car—-they must be equally as strong to fly to freedom. The first wing is awareness, the ability to acknowledge. For the first three days, we practice observing the breath and the nostrils to sharpen the mind’s concentration and sensitivity. In conjunction with the meditation, there are taped discourses, teachings, every night, by a jolly fellow named S.N. Goenka. He teaches intellectually, and by practicing Vipassana, we learn experientially, the universal truth of life: anitya. Anitya means change. Everything is temporary, every sensation, every thought, every experience, every thing is temporary. So the first wing is awareness of sensations and awareness of their temporary nature.

Understanding anitya, we develop the second wing: equanimity. I learned what equanimity means one day when we were told to sit in the meditation hall, unmoving, for one hour (this happens three times a day after the fourth day). This particular meditation, after fifteen minutes, I felt the sensation of needing to poop. I observed the sensation; at times it was real intense, at other times less intense, and sometimes it went away entirely.  When the hour ended, I went to the bathroom with the knowledge and the feeling: Equanimity means being OK, even if I poop my pants.

Equanimity is freedom from suffering. Equanimously, one can still decide to go to the bathroom, but if s/he doesn’t make it in time, or is not allowed to go for whatever reason, it’s all light. Equanimity means being okay with whatever happens. One can still have preferences, but if a preference is not met, it’s all light.

Vipassana develops awareness and acceptance; it cultivates equanimity; it is (one) path to enlightenment.

When one is truly enlightened, and the mind is uncluttered by judgments, compassion flows naturally—-indeed, sharing love is our nature.

There’s a beautiful story that illustrates complete liberation. When Jesus was having nails hammered through his wrists, I bet he was objectively observing the sensations he felt. If he clung to the pain (“This is my pain and it hurts so bad!”), he may have cursed the people. But understanding anitya, and with fully-cultivated equanimity, he felt sad for them:  “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They were torturing him, and he showed them compassion, hoping to free them from their suffering, the captivity of suffering the vicissitudes of life. Those people, as well as most people this world (or at least in the consumer culture), cling to their way of life, their preferences, their likes and dislikes, so strongly that they become addicted to their preferences, and if there is any threat to their addictions of craving or aversion, they kill the person who’s threatening them with change.

And yet, life is change.

I am not discounting myself from those people—-I too suffer many addictions to sensations; but the more I practice Vipassana, the more I notice the sensations, the less I habitually react to them, and the more liberated and consciously, purposefully I live.

On the 10th day, we could talk to the other students to help us adjust to reality. In that day, I made great friends. Some people had done Vipassana in the 70’s, some were born in the 80’s, one had only meditated 5 minutes before taking the course… and no one was dissapointed. Every person who took this course benefited in some way. It truly was one of, if not the, best thing I’ve ever done. I really really really recommend it to You, whoever, however, or whatever you are. Really, really, really I do. This is some medicine that can work for any and every one.

Ultimately, Vipassana develops the willingness to take responsibility for one’s own experience and choices this life.

For more information and a center near you, visit http://www.dhamma.org
this is a free service. make of it what you will.

may all beings be happy. may all beings be freed from the bondage of suffering. may all beings be happy.

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