In pursuit of liberation
Updated: Nov 8, 2021
The aim of Vipassana is to enable us to remove unconscious 'habitual reactions'
I recently attended a 10-day Vipassana course, including briefing and closing, and spent a total of 12 days. My aim is to share my experiences, so that those who are interested may get a feel for the course and overall teachings.
The recent prevalence of Vipassana in the West, which originated in Buddhism, has benefited from psychology studies since 1970. Although meditation sounds a bit esoteric, it is simply a practice of awareness and balance of mind (equanimity), based on philosophy and practical application. I come across Vipassana through a book titled, "Why Buddhism is true" by Robert Wright, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. The title of the book is a bit catchy (and meant to grab your attention), but it is about secular Buddhism, which focuses only on the practice of Buddhism and a rationalist and evidentialist understanding of Buddhism, rather than on non-scientific perspectives. I have limited understanding of the difficult Buddhist theories, and would not dare discuss them here.
To practise Buddhism is to refuse to spend one's days wandering in the void, to feel the present moment, to concentrate on every second, and to live seriously.
Vipassana is the Pali word for 'insight'. Vipassana means to do everything with awareness and to understand more about yourself. The ten days of life are just simply about eating, going to the toilet, walking, meditating and sleeping. The techniques are very simple, just concentration (meditation) and internal observation (wisdom). Meditation is the observation of the breath. To watch the breath means to observe it, to feel it carefully as it comes in and goes out. We get up at four o'clock in the morning to meditate, and we keep practising to improve. Yes, watching the breath can also lead to progress. The more you watch it, the more you can see the details. We live our lives without ever understanding the power of each breath and its smoothness.
I am too young to be patient. Observing from the outside, meditation looks quiet. But inside, my mind is like a storm, and your focus rides a light boat out to sea in a big wave bay. You get many thoughts, and you sweat profusely. When your mind is free, your body feels sensations more intensely. I had sharp pain in my back, which is something I have never experienced before. I once had many injuries from martial arts training, but none of them have been as intense as this. Every time I meditated for a long time, the pain and suffering in all areas of my body would challenge my willpower. Each time you overcome a level, next time you can hold on for a few more minutes, and the cycle continues.
This school of meditation is handed down from S. N Goenka. We meditate for 10+ hours a day, with a vegetarian diet in the morning and afternoon, and no dinner. Every day I sleep restlessly, tossing and turning, unable to sleep soundly through the night. When I managed to quieten my mind, the memories and imagination of the future would simply take over. Modern life is tied with mobile phones. Your brain is constantly filled with information. When there’s no more stimulus, it starts to constantly roar with desire. I dreamt of good food and wine, saw the tedium of life. I can hardly find a moment of peace in my heart. I wake up again in the morning, and for days I feel like a corpse. I look to the outside world and count down every night, hoping to escape this prison.
The aim of meditation is to remove these unconscious 'habitual reactions', the thoughts or emotions that arise from events. It was just a matter of trying to meditate, to keep my mind still, to accept and feel each moment. In the second half of the retreat, the mind becomes a little clearer and desire is still there, but it is possible to live with it and be at peace with it. Slowly I realise that I don't need to eat much, a little is enough. The lack of rest and the desire to catch up on sleep are self-inflicted demons. As we learn more about our own lives, we can also reflect on how much of our daily lives are judged by our established perceptions, from how much we eat and how little we sleep to our needs and pursuits in life.
Be serious about life. Don't take things lightly, and the details we overlook will fill the hollowness and dullness of the world. In the midst of forgetfulness, we find our beginnings, our family, our dreams, our compassion and love. Everything was already in our mind, recalling the purity of our childhood happiness, clearing the fog and finding our true self. The more I seek concentration, the harder it is to meditate; the more I control my thoughts, the more jarring they become; the more I crave fame and fortune, the more likely I am to be anxious to achieve things, and essentially achieve nothing. It is not that I do not want anything, but that I do want something; something purposeful. I realise that sometimes we have to let go of something in order to achieve it, or to achieve something better instead. After all there is nothing at all, we are surrounded by illusions, so where can the dust attach?