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Goenka Vipassana Meditation; My Personal Experience (Part 2 Of 2)
Dhamma Malaya Vipassana Centre
Goenka Vipassana Meditation; My Personal Experience
This is Part 2 of “Goenka Vipassana Meditation; My Personal Experience”. To read Part 1, please click here: "Goenka Vipassana Meditation; My Personal Experience (Part 1 Of 2)"
Early morning scene
Exploring Day Four
My back pain appeared and disappeared, giving me opportunity to observe it without reaction, with equanimity of the mind. That was Vipassana training for me. But most time when the pain appeared, it was most unbearable. But my mind did not react with aversion or anger. That was the correct approach in training the mind not to react to sensations. When the mind is able to stay equanimous and observe sensations with awareness, the person is less likely to react on impulse. Everyone knows that being alert to situations and be able to control one’s emotions on every occasion are important personality traits. However, most people do not know how to cultivate these traits. Ignorance of this is the cause of our problems and miseries. Vipassana meditation is training the mind to achieve this alertness with an equanimous mind, by going deeply into the subconscious level.
The afternoon session started with instructions on Vipassana meditation. From then on, all sittings involved the observation of body sensations with awareness and equanimity. The instruction was to mentally scan the body from head to feet, and to be a detached observer of sensations in the body without likes or dislikes. The mind was to be acutely aware of the sensations, and at the same time to remain equanimous. Awareness and equanimous were the two most important states of mind to remember.
[ Day-4 Discourse : This is a very important discourse. Goenkaji explains why we need to observe sensations with awareness while maintaining equanimity of the mind. First we need to understand the workings of the mind.
Sensations are produced through our sense organs. One faculty of the mind then recognizes these sensations without differentiating them. It is the other part of the mind that interprets these sensations based on its past experiences and memories. This is the perception faculty of the mind. It interprets whether the sensation is good or bad. From the interpretation, the sensation is given value and it becomes real sensation to the person, whether the sensation is good, neutral or bad.
Once a decision has been made, the next critical stage of the mind is to react according to the perceived interpretation of that sensation. The cause of our miseries lies in this stage of instinctive reactions to our sensations in the deepest level of the subconscious (unconscious) mind, in the root level of the subconscious mind. These reactions are called sankharas. These sankharas are the seeds that one sows throughout one's life through one's reactions to sensations. The more one sows the seeds of craving, aversion and hatred, the more one suffers. This is the storehouse of one's defilements that cause one to suffer sorrow and misery. Throughout one’s life, these reactions to sensations sow the seeds of aversion, craving, and hatred in one’s mind causing miseries to oneself, and to others as well. Our conscious mind cannot fully control our reactions to these sensations, because by the time the instinctive reaction of the sensation reaches the conscious mind, it overpowers the mind. The Vipassana technique is to break this chain from perceived sensation to instinctive reaction. The hidden mechanism is in the subconscious mind, hidden deeply within us. One needs to dig deep into the mind to find the root cause and to eliminate the accumulated defilements.
The secret is activating the subconscious mind. Control the subconscious mind, and the conscious mind will have time to adjust. Once the subconscious mind is made acutely aware of not reacting to sensations, the whole mind will respond accordingly. Just to be acutely aware of sensations is not enough. The other requirement is to maintain an equanimous mind, not reacting to these sensations. Just perfect awareness with pure equanimity. Vipassana meditation is basically training the mind to watch sensations with awareness and with equanimity, not reacting to them. Gradually, one will feel calm and relaxed, and realize that sensations come and go. It is the nature of things that everything changes. There is nothing to hold on. ]
Determination On Day Five
Day 5 became more serious in meditation. We were required to practice “sitting with determination” meditation. These sessions were real testing time. We were required to sit perfectly still for at least an hour. Whatever discomfort, we trained ourselves to be detached observers of sensations without reacting to them. This was real deep training of the mind in order to get deep into the subconscious level of the mind where lay the root cause of our problems.
My maximum period of tolerable sitting was about 50 minutes. After that, pain on the legs would appear. It was agonizing when my back pain would surface to test my determination. My success rate for the total sessions during the whole course was about 50% when the back pain did not surface, and I could persevere for the one hour. Happily, after returning from the course, I can now sit for the one hour without the back pain!
[ Day-5 Discourse : Goenkaji gives a more detailed explanation of how one becomes victim to one’s ignorance and suffers miseries. He also explains how one can overcome this predicament and get better gradually. The more one reacts, the more negative reactions one stores in one’s mind. These reactions do not disappear but lie latent in the deepest level of the mind, causing miseries to the owner. These reactions are called “sankharas”. When one stops generating sankharas by not reacting to sensations, old sankharas will rise onto the surface of the mind and dissipate. With persistent practise of Vipassana, not only new sankharas not be created, old sankharas will rise and dissipate from the mind. Gradually one would be free from bondage and miseries. Vipassana meditation was to break the unconscious mind’s habit of instinctive reactions. Without reactions, there would not be sankharas. With no added sankharas one would be able to emerge from one’s miseries.
Sankharas work in accordance with the universal law of nature. They are like magnetic force-field. They not only attract likeness but also multiply amongst themselves. Due to our ignorance, from the sensations, we continue to generate negative reactions which keep on multiplying from within, and at the same time attracting negative vibrations and influences from without. We continue to wallow in the quagmire of sorrows and miseries. Stop this vicious cycle of “sensation-reaction-sankharas”, we stop the miseries within us. We would have developed wisdom, real experiential wisdom. ]
This is the clearest explanation that I have been searching for, all these years! This explains the “why and how” Vipassana meditation works! Go deep into the root cause and dig out the problem. I am most surprised that there is also this "depletion process" of existing defilements or sankharas. Perhaps the abrupt appearance of my back pain was the manifestation of latent sankharas arising and depleting. These must be those very gross negative sankharas that I carried all my life, camouflaging on the surface of my personality and were the first to be expunged from my system through the sensation of extreme back pain.
This knowledge changes my personal perception that it is virtually impossible for a very defiled person to change for the better. All this while I was of the opinion that the existing defilements (sankharas) of a person would not disappear which would make it near impossible for that person to change for the better even if this person stopped generating new sankharas. With this new knowledge and perspective, I now firmly believe that everyone can change for the better. This is good news for me as I belong to this category of carrying tons of existing sankharas!
I am now on the right track, fully understanding the process of Vipassana meditation on the experiential level. There is hope for me that I will be a better person through persistent practice of Vipassana meditation.
Fearful Day Six
For the first time I was able to pass the one-hour “sitting with determination” session. The day passed without much adventure (until the middle of the night).
In the afternoon I had a meeting with the teacher asking the common questions about pain, sleepiness and the wandering mind. All of us will suffer a certain degree of pain on the legs if we sit cross-legged for very long period. Leg pain is a very common problem in sitting meditation. His advice was to shift position if the pain became unbearable.
As with the questions of sleepiness and wandering mind, the teacher reminded me that they were common hindrances in meditation. If we felt sleepy, we should get up and wash our face. As for wandering mind, deep breathing for a while might help. Incidentally, “hindrances” during meditation was part of the subject of the night’s discourse.
[ Day-6 Discourse : Goenkaji touches on the various hindrances during meditation. But the more important message is the interactions between mind and body. The mind generates reactions to sensations, the likes and dislikes, push and pull, hatred and craving, all stored up in the deepest level of the mind. The physical body composes of subatomic particles (called "kalapas") with four main elements of heat, liquid, gas, and solid. These subatomic particles are the results of the interactions between mind and matter. Matter is produced by material inputs of nutrition and the atmosphere. Mind generates mental inputs in the form of sankharas. An input of anger will influence the body matter to generate more heat element . Likewise an input of fear will influence the body matter to generate more gas element causing the body to tremble. This is the root cause of our problems. Vipassana meditation leads us to self-exploration and self-experience to observe the realities of the interactions between mind and matter, to see things as there really are, and not as perceived by our flawed senses. One can now merely equanimously observe the sensations which will eventually come to pass, not liking or disliking them. With this gradual inner cleansing of mind and matter, one will experience inner peace and happiness. ]
Why fearful day six? I am always fearful of being alone, especially at night. This morbid fear of being alone has its roots implanted deeply in my subconscious mind, when I was a young boy. I used to listen to ghost stories which were supposed to be real. And watching frightening movies aggravated the problem. In Asian societies, stories of ghosts are pretty scary, not that the west does not have a fair share. Whenever I am alone this terrible fear creeps up to haunt me. I might have been too exhausted during the first 5 nights that the scary thoughts did not arise.
It must have been when I was about to fall asleep that this terrible mental fear reared its ugly head. Even at my age, I still succumbed to this deep-rooted mental fear of ghosts. My mind would churn out vivid images of scary ghosts and other frightening images. It was just on instinct that I began to observe this fear phenomenon but remained calm. It must be the results of the past 5 days of intensive mental training that I was able to observe with awareness, set aside the fearful reaction. I must have watched this state of mind with a calm and equanimous mind, just as I had been practicing for the past 6 days. For the first time in my life, the specter of fear disappeared. I closed my eyes and smiled! Would that be a real experience of not reacting to sensation, and allowing latent fear sankhara to emerge and dissipate? Only time will tell. But for the rest of my remaining days, I was not mentally fearful anymore!
Relaxing Day Seven
I spent the day improving on my sitting sessions. My body had slightly adjusted to the rigorous routine of sitting for long periods, although the back pain would randomly appear to cause me acute physical pain. This was to be the better part of the training; being able to observe discomfort with awareness and with an equanimous mind, the result of which I was to experience the next day.
[ Day-7 Discourse : Goenkaji "introduces" 5 “friends” into our practice. They are faith, effort, awareness, concentration and wisdom. Faith or confidence in what one is doing. This is with understanding; not blind faith. Effort to pursue the right path, again with understanding. Awareness must be developed to observe the reality of the present moment, not the past nor the future. It is only in the present moment that one can be in control. Concentration is needed to sustain this awareness from moment to moment without any break. From these four friends, one will gain a fifth friend once the moment of truth is experienced within oneself. The experiential wisdom to remain equanimous and to observe with awareness all the sensations, realizing their impermanent nature of arising and disappearing. This level of equanimity is at the depth of the mind, and will enhance one’s ability to remain balanced amidst the vicissitudes of daily life. ]
Frightening Day Eight
Just when I felt more confident in my sitting meditation, I was to encounter a frightening experience during the morning sessions. The early morning 4.30 meditation session went smoothly for me, until towards the end just before 6.30 when I suddenly experienced an uncontrollable seizure-like convulsion. Without any reason, I began to clench my hands tightly, my arms and legs shook violently trying to straighten out. That went on intermittently a few times, each lasting a few seconds. By then the session had ended at 6.30am. It was a frightening experience. I did not feel at ease after that.
The second morning session started at 8 o’clock. I sat as usual without any disturbance. Then just before 9, the convulsion started again. Just as it came without a warning, the convulsion stopped just as abrupt. I was lost for words.
In the afternoon I met the teacher to report on this frightening experience. The teacher did not seem surprised but instead assured me not to worry and that I had made improvements in my meditation practise. Would the two convulsion encounters be another personal experience of latent sankharas arising and depleting themselves? Again time will tell. But at least I was not worrying any more. Strange as it might seem to be, the attack did not resurface.
[ Day-8 Discourse : Goenkaji touches on the importance of using wisdom to stop generating sankharas. Once this reaction to sensation stops, the process of eradicating existing sankharas can begin. (Was this happening to me already?) The experiential wisdom is in using the two very important mental weapons to control the subconscious mind; awareness and equanimity. Both are equally important. These two mental weapons are like the pair of wings of a bird, they must be equal in size and in strength. Then wisdom will arise at the deepest level of the mind, just like the bird soaring through the sky.The wisdom to just observe sensations without reacting, that is awareness with equanimity, and to realize the ultimate truth of anicca, impermanence. When the habit pattern of the mind is changed, by observing sensations with awareness and equanimity, the whole personality will also change for the better. ]
A More Confident Day Nine
I had another meeting with the teacher that afternoon. This time I wanted to clarify the status of pain in meditation. Another question was on the practicability of maintaining an equanimous mind in daily activities.
The value of pain during meditation is often misinterpreted. We are told to observe pain which will eventually disappear. But not all pain being the results of acute meditative observation. Some pain is physically caused by us. This type of pain cannot disappear. I have problem with cross-legged sitting on the floor, mainly due to my bone structure. Pain as a result of this sitting posture obviously will not go away. For all practical purposes, I should adjust my sitting position if I cannot bear the pain anymore. I was happy that the teacher agreed with my contention. But since returning from the course, my leg pain has eased a lot. I think it is a matter of “practice makes perfect”!
I made a surprising discovery since returning home. I have been doing the "sitting with determination" at home. This meant that I would sit still for 1 hour notwithstanding the leg pain. Since there was a time frame, I was determined to sit through the one hour, and watched the leg pain with an equanimous mind even if my legs were going to be crippled by then. I was surprised to find that at times, the acute leg pain did fade away without any warning! This is "impermanence" at its best!
On the question of being in equanimous in daily activities, Vipassana meditation is not meant for one to treat life as miserable and to behave like a zombie without any feeling. It is how one should be careful not to be heedless with unskilful reactions to sensations which cause miseries. When it is time to enjoy oneself, one should do so as a lay person but with guarded awareness. That is a good answer, though not exactly in his own words.
[ Day-9 Discourse : Goenkaji emphasizes the importance of mastering this Vipassana technique. When a mental defilement arises, two things manifest at the physical level; change in the manner of respiration and the resulting sensation. When one develops the skill to observe respiration and sensation at the physical level, one is able to control mental defilements indirectly. An example, when anger arises, just observe the anger sensation, don't suppress it nor express it; just observe with equanimity. The anger sensation will become weaker and weaker and gradually will pass away. Gradually, one is able to remain balanced even in times of urgency, allowing more time to think and act more rationally. This will make one a better person. ]
A Welcoming Day Ten
The 10-day course officially ended at 10.15 in the morning, after a meditation session on “loving kindness” or Metta Bhavana. The “noble silence” likewise was ended. Being a quiet person, I remained silent. But we were not free to leave yet. There was still a full day and night ahead of us. What else to do except meditation! By the tenth day, we would have cultivated a reasonable level of peace in our mind. That qualified us to spread peaceful and loving vibrations to all beings. This type of meditation is called meditation on loving kindness or Metta Bhavana.
[ Day-10 Discourse : This is a summary of the eventful 10 days of mind training. We started with moral precepts (sila), and practised observing the breath to gain concentration (Samadhi), and then developed wisdom to watch sensations with equanimity (panna, pronounced as “pun-nya”). We learned to observe sensations as they arose and disappeared without reacting to them. In the process, the mind did not create further defilements, while at the same time, old defilements arose and dissipated themselves. The mind was gradually being purified and the body became lighter. One is now able to see things as they really are, and not what they perceived to be. This is insight meditation, Vipassana Bhavana. ]
Ready to go home
Good-bye Day Eleven
Our early morning 4.30 meditation schedule was still on, but this time for only one hour, followed by a final discourse. After breakfast at 6.30, we helped in cleaning up the center, and said our final good-bye around 9 in the morning. It has been a mind-boggling 10 days!
A final discourse was given at 5.30 in the morning, advising us on how to continue our practice when we leave the center. The crux of the practice is to change the habit pattern of the mind. Persistent practice is now needed to maintain and improve this development of the mind. Just as we need to do physical exercise to keep the body strong, fit and healthy, we also need to do mental exercise to train the mind to keep it sound, strong, healthy, alert and pure; to change its bad habit pattern.
We should continue the training as follows:
- One hour Vipassana (ending with Metta) meditation in the morning.
- One hour Vipassana (ending with Metta) meditation in the evening.
- Once a year, to repeat the 10-day course.
- Going to bed at night and waking up in the morning, to contemplate for a few seconds, the ever changing sensations of the body (Anicca, anicca, anicca) (pronounced as “anicha”).
In the narration of my experience, I tried to explain in simple terms, avoiding Buddhist terms in the Pali language, the dialect spoken by the Buddha during his time in Northern India, 2500 years ago. Vipassana meditation was discovered by the Buddha through his personal experience by watching the body and the mind. His discovery was not a sectarian or cultish encounter. Because he was the Buddha, what he taught, we called "Buddhism", and people misinterpreted his teachings as a religion. What the Buddha discovered was nothing more than universal truths. Everyone suffers. There is no distinction. There is no such thing as Indian suffering, American suffering or Chinese suffering. Suffering is suffering. The method to end this suffering is to go deep into the mind through the method of mind concentration and purification. This is also universal. That is why Goenkaji assured that Vipassana mediation is about universal truths where everyone can practice, irrespective of one's belief system.
Goenkaji's Vipassana meditation method is in accordance with the Buddhist texts. His introduction that life is full of miseries because of certain causes but there is a way out and a cure, is based on the Four Noble Truths. In Pali, cattāri ariyasaccā.
His explanation of the chain-link of sensation and reaction is based on the text called "dependent origination or dependent arising" with its twelve-link dependent origination. In Pali it is called paticcasamuppāda.
The method of meditation called Vipassana Bhavana is based on the Buddhist text called "the Four Foundations of Mindfulness" or in Pali, Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.
"Seeing things as they are" is the trichotomy of the phenomenon of nature; that every component thing is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and without substance or non-self. The Pali term is Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta.
The process of training Vipassana meditation is the three-prong approach: morality, concentration and wisdom, or in Pali, sila, samadhi, paññā. ("Paññā" is pronounced as "pun nya".)
The three-prong approach is the totality of the Noble Eightfold Path or in Pali, ariya aṭṭhaṅgika magga.
The above summary is the embodiment of the Buddha's universal teachings in accordance with the laws of nature, applicable to all beings.
May all of you be healthy and happy!
Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam! May all beings be happy!
( Maṅgalaṃ is pronounced as Mangalang)
Testimony from a very sweet and fascinating lady
An update. Vipassana meditation and child birth = Awesome!
Meditation and the brain
Video on Vipassana at the workplace
This is an interesting video presentation about the positive benefits at the workplace of some Malaysian professionals who have attended the 10-day Goenka Vipassana course. Click here to view the video.
The 10-day Discourses by Goenkaji on Youtube
If you interested to know more about the 10 discourses by Goenkaji, you can watch and listen to him on Youtube. Please go this link "The 10-day discourses by Goenkaji on Youtube".
The Website of Goenka Vipassana Meditation
This is the official website of the Goenka Vipassana Meditation where you can locate all the centers around the world. Please Click Here.
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