Vipassana meditation changed my life

A dear friend recently read in my bio that I practice Vipassana meditation and wanted to know more about it. I tried to explain to him what Vipassana is all about. I thought it might be of use to others who are interested in finding out about Vipassana as well:

Just like we need to keep the body healthy, we need to keep the mind healthy. Because the mind is abstract, we don’t realize that it is unfit/lethargic/obese etc. Just like we need to expend more than we take in to prevent the body from storing up unwanted stuff, we need to keep the mind clear of defilements. What are they?

Let’s talk a little bit about the mind. The mind is not the brain. It is not consciousness alone, because there is a subconscious part of the mind that continues to function even if we are unconscious.

From when we are born, we have been trained to look outside, we never look inside. There is a habit pattern the mind has developed (anything repeated over a long period of time becomes a habit) of craving and aversion. What is this habit pattern?
 
The mind has six sense doors. The five sense organs and the sixth one is thought/thinking. We are constantly exposed to external stimuli, even when asleep our mind is active in thoughts/dreams etc. Whenever we experience a stimulus, the mind immediately evaluates the stimulus. Good – I like it or Bad – I don’t like it. As soon as it evaluates the stimulus, it starts “reacting” – if the stimulus is good it starts craving more for it and if the stimulus is bad it starts generating aversion against it.

Now this is a recipe for unhappiness throughout life. Why? The Buddha discovered (much like Darwin discovered evolution) that everything is impermanent and changing. All mind and matter in the universe is in constant flux. Therefore, by definition, when we crave something, we will periodically not get it and when we generate aversion, we will periodically get it. This is what generates unhappiness.

How does one fix this. By breaking the habit pattern of the mind of craving and aversion and building the habit of equanimity (or non reaction to stimuli, with the understanding that it is impermanent anyway).

A lot of philosophies get this far. The challenge is – how do you break this habit pattern. Thoughts and stimuli are abstract, it is impossible to be equanimous toward something that is abstract.

This was the BIG DISCOVERY of Gautama the Buddha (who by the way was a human being – an extraordinary one albeit – not unlike Darwin or Einstein or Buffett):

He discovered that mind and body or mind and matter or psycho-soma (as the medical profession calls it) are inextricably linked. He discovered that every time a stimulus is received by the mind – a physical sensation is generated throughout the body (I’ve experienced this). The mind does not actually react to the stimulus itself – but rather reacts to this sensation which it evaluates as good or bad. Have you ever experienced butterflies in your stomach when nervous/anxious or had freezing cold palms when afraid of something or felt really warm/hot when angry – well these are just super-intense forms of the sensations that can then even be experienced by the conscious mind.

This is great, because now we have a tool by which to break the habit pattern of craving-aversion. We can train the mind to observe these sensations with equanimity and to not generate craving/aversion. This practice is called Vipassana meditation.
What about the human body analogy of stored stuff and expended stuff. The mind requires energy to function (let’s call it mind energy) – in the Buddha’s day he called it Sankhara. Now these energies/sankharas are of various types – anger/jealousy/lust/kindness/compassion etc.etc. It is not important for us to learn how many there are and what they are etc. Let’s suffice to say that every time an external stimulus is received and we “react” by generating craving or aversion, we generate sankharas or mind-energy. Now the longer we roll in a particular reaction we multiply these sankharas exponentially. All these sankharas are not used up by the mind and they get accumulated.

In a 10 day Vipassana course – we cut out external stimuli for several reasons. First to really understand what is going on in the mind-body spectrum, we need to concentrate the mind and focus it on this aspect. This cannot happen while we constantly feed it external stimuli. Now obviously, the moment you cut out the 5 sense stimuli – the sixth sense door – mind/thoughts becomes hyper active. Also, it starts uprooting/using up the stored energy or sankharas to keep it going. As we train the mind in equanimity, new sankharas are not created and old ones are used up. The eradication of the stored up energy is even faster than the speed of accumulation.

So to conclude – a 10 day camp is like a fitness boot camp for the mind. First you learn how to effectively practice Vipassana. This obviously starts on the 4th day of the course. For the first 3 days you do concentration warm-ups that get your mind to base level fitness to even be in a position to learn vipassana. Then the remaining days you practice the skill that you learned intensely. At the end of 10 days, you feel lighter just as you would at the end of boot-camp.

What next – well you practice the technique for 2 hours (recommended) every day. This cleans up the sankharas that we accumulate daily and prevents them from piling up in our minds and keeps our mind fit and agile. You periodically (say once a year) go to a 10 day boot camp to give yourself a further boost and to advance further.

Get somebody to cover for you if you must. There are a lot of involuntary situations in life (like falling very sick) when we are forced to miss our worldly commitments. If you feel a strong desire in yourself to do this, don’t wait. This is the most important thing you will ever do.

Read more about Vipassana:

1. General Info:

http://www.dhamma.org
 
http://www.vri.dhamma.org/ (more detailed info)

2. Code of conduct:

http://www.dhamma.org/en/code.shtml
 
3. Some articles on Vipassana written by Goenkaji.

http://www.vri.dhamma.org/newsletters/index-en.shtml
 
Below are two particular articles that might be interesting:

- Vipassana is an Art of Living:

http://www.vri.dhamma.org/newsletters/en/en2000-05.shtml
 
- The meaning of happiness - talk given by Goenkaji at World Economic Forum in Davos

http://www.vri.dhamma.org/newsletters/en/en2000-08.shtml
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