10 Days of Silence
When I tell someone about Vipassana their first reaction is, “How can you not speak a word for 10 days!?!” But not speaking is the easiest part of this very intensive meditation course.
To the uninitiated, Vipassana is an ancient Buddhist meditation that was almost lost to the world. It is said that Siddharth Gautam became Gautam Buddha with this technique. This meditation is all about analysing and breaking yourself down to sub-atomic particles. So, through this meditation, Buddha also discovered the exact size of the carbon atom way back in the 5th Century BC. During the course we are shown the difference between looking inwards and outwards for answers. When Gautam Buddha discovered the atom by meditating (looking inwards), it led to Buddhism - the religion of peace. When the atom was discovered through science (looking outwards), it led to the creation of the atomic bomb - complete destruction. This is just one of the fascinating aspects of this Vipassana. And when you look at it from a macro perspective, 10 days of silence is barely any price to pay.
I went to the Dhamma Salila in Dehradun because it was the peak of summer in Delhi and the hills seemed like a good idea. The ashram itself is very bare - they give you bedding but its best to carry your own. Bedding, a torch and an alarm clock. Once you enter the ashram and register, they expect you to give away your reading and writing material, your mobile phone, food, any medication or painkillers. If you have to take some medicine then you have to let them know and usually they allow it.
Expect to share a room with a couple of other people. If you’re lucky (like I was) you will get your own private bathroom, otherwise you may have to share that too. You have to do all the cleaning yourself and clean your own dirty dishes after eating. You are assigned a seat in the mediation hall and in the dining room - you must not sit on anyone else’s seat except your own. Because this is literally the mother of all meditations, it creates a lot of energy (trust me you can feel it). And by sitting on someone else’s seat you can absorb another person’s energy, which could be positive or negative. In fact, even after the mediation is over, they advise you not to hug or shake hands with your fellow students.
This brings me to the other don’ts: no talking, no eye contact, no walking together, no cigarettes, no alcohol, no yoga, no stretching, no praying, no other form of meditation, no gods, no religion, no talismans like rings or crystals or even the red mouli thread. In fact, they cut any thread tied around your wrists saying that you’re here for liberation - why would you tie yourself down? Meals are simple and nutritious. Breakfast is at 6:30, lunch at 11:30. Those are your two main meals. If you’re a first timer then you’re allowed a cup of tea and a small bowl of puffed rice with peanuts at 5:00 in the evening. And that’s it. Ideally you should keep you stomach 1/4th empty, so your mind is not heavy after food.
The first round of meditation begins at 4:30am, which lasts for two hours. You can take a break in the two hour meditations. The two hour meditations are usually followed up with a 15 minute break followed by a one hour meditation. The one-hour meditations are called adhishthana, and you are not supposed to move or open your eyes during this hour, unless of course you’re in great pain. You meditate for about 9-10 hours every day with breaks in between. Lights out at 9:30.
The day of arrival is used to settle in, hand over your material etc. At night you have a small meeting around 9:00pm after which the silence begins. The next two and a half days are spent doing an excruciatingly boring meditation called aana-paana, where you focus only on your breath. All through the 10 days you will be guided by the voice of Acharya S.N. Goenka, who brought the technique from Burma and revived it all over the world. You begin by focussing on your nose and throat till eventually you only focus on how your breath feels just on the area right under your nose. They say that the mind becomes sharper when it focuses on a smaller area.
Day three is when you get trained in the Vipassana technique, over two hours with Acharya Goenka’s voice guiding you. And that is when you first feel the real power of this meditation. It is one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had. Your fears, emotions and old habits will manifest in physical symptoms - a friend (who I spoke to later) felt like a thousand insects were crawling all over her body. I felt like a whirlpool of air was swirling up and down and back up again from my head to my toes. A boy who was part of the course got an upset stomach when he would do Vipassana. It is the only meditation that manifests so powerfully in the body.
For the next seven days this meditation is what you will do and these sensations are all you will feel. Eventually you will spend a few hours everyday alone in a tiny cell (don’t be afraid, I LOVED the cell). Emotions will bubble up, you will get insights, you will be bored beyond tears, you will cry, you will be hungry, you will feel bliss, and you will feel physical pain. Unless you’re very old, they discourage meditation chairs. The only thing you have is a seat on the floor. Put three cushions under your hips and two fat pillows under your knees. After 10 days of sitting crossed legged your joints will feel stiff.
Vipassana may sound intense (which it is), but it is also the most cleansing experiences that will set your head straight for a lifetime. On the last day you’re taught the Mangal Maitreyi or Metta meditation. Vipassana is like a deep surgery of the mind, which uproots self destructive patterns and habits that have been set for many lifetimes. Metta is like a bandage, a balm after the surgery. While many people do leave the course midway, it is strongly advised that you don’t leave till you complete this Metta meditation. You wouldn’t want to walk around with open wounds, would you?
The biggest change I noticed in myself after the course was that I became highly efficient. I wouldn't waste a single second and started working the moment I reached office. I still practice Vipassana almost everyday. I can’t tell you the technique because you need to be prepared carefully or it may have adverse effects.
The best part about this meditation is that, unlike other forms of dhyana where you need to do pranayama before starting, you can get into this straightaway. And it really does liberate you. It empowers you because you are stronger and more efficient. And the technique is so scientific - you don't need a mantra or a mala, an image or an idol. You just need silence and your mind.
To find out about courses, centres and other details log on to www.dhamma.org.
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