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Sunday, 18 May 2014

10 Days of Quiet - Vipassana Meditation

My job is to convince you to take a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat after reading this. If I can convince even one of you, my faithful readers, to embark on this amazing and transformative journey, then I have fulfilled my called-upon duty. If none of you are convinced, then I have failed.
The retreat was held at Camp Kasota by Sylvan Lake, typically a kids camp
By taking a 10-day retreat I received an intense introduction to the path of Dhamma, and took my first small steps on what could be a long life journey to enlightenment.

The path of Dhamma was discovered by Gotama in 5th century BC. Gotama practiced Vipassana meditation until, one day, as he sat under the Bodhi tree, he attained enlightenment and became a Buddha. At that moment he eliminated all of his miseries, leaving his mind with only love and compassion. Gotama the Buddha, enlightened at the age of 35, then spent every waking moment of the next 45 years of his life, right until the moment of his death, teaching people the path of Dhamma.

What truly sets the path of Dhamma apart from any other way of life is it's universal and non-secular, thus, it is accessible to all individuals regardless of religion or race. Dhamma does not contain any gods or idols, no rites or rituals. Thus, anyone can take the path of Dhamma without renouncing their own belief system. Even "the Buddha" is neither god nor idol; anyone who becomes enlightened is technically a Buddha. This means you or I could become a Buddha - we only need to become enlightened.
It's late April and Sylvan Lake was still frozen
But isn't Buddhism a secular religion, you ask? After Gotama became Buddha, he taught only the path of Dhamma to the world, nothing else. Buddhism sprung from the Dhamma teachings, as a new religion, constructed by others who slightly tweaked Dhamma. Even the subtlest of changes no longer made it universal. Instead, these changes made it secular, and tainted the purity of the path of Dhamma.

The path of Dhamma preaches three universal aspects: sīla, samādhi and paññā. These words are in the ancient northern Indian language of Pali, now lost to the world, originally used by Gotama in his Dhamma teachings. Dhamma is in Pali, while today's more popular term Dharma is the same word in Sanskrit.

Sīla, or morality, is good behaviour, consisting of 5 precepts: no killing, no stealing, no telling lies, no sexual misconduct and no intoxicants.

Samādhi is mastery of the mind, which is achieved through the act of meditation.

Paññā is wisdom, attained through practicing samādhi and gaining understanding of all impermanence, or anicca.
The cabins at Camp Kasota
The 10-day retreat puts these three universal aspects into practice. Strict rules during the retreat helped to achieve the 5 precepts of sīla. During the entire course, sitters (participants) take Noble Silence, which means they do not talk to anyone (except the managers and teachers as required) nor make any eye contact. New students eat only fruit past noon, old students (returning students) do not eat anything past noon, they are allowed only tea. There are no reading or writing materials, nor electronic devices including cell phones. Males and females are segregated the entire time in roped off areas, like invisible walls. All possible distractions are removed, forcing sitters to be introspective.

Meditation is practiced about 11 hours per day, developing samādhi, mastery of the mind. Days 1-4 involve the practice of Anapana meditation. Anapana focuses on the breath and the physical sensations around the area of the nose. This sharpens the mind and prepares it for the next step, which is Vipassana meditation, practiced on Days 5-10. Vipassana involves objectively observing the entire body, detecting sensations - throbbing, heat, cold, pain, itching, tingling, ants crawling, etc. Once the sitter advances through Vipassana, he or she learns paññā, or wisdom, by detection sensations throughout the entire body at once, with a complete poise and calm, mindful yet unreactive - with a zen mind.

In an advanced stage of paññā, the sitter experiences the entire body at a subatomic level, vibrating, experiencing the Law of Nature within oneself, that of continuous change, or all impermanence, anicca in Pali. This experience reminds me of the Matrix, the moment when Neo realizes he is The One, and he sees everything as code. This is enlightenment.
Anicca - Pali word for "all impermance" (also my tattoo consideration) 
So how exactly does this work? Prepare yourself for a philosophical barrage.

When we experience a reaction (saṅkhārato a sensation at a conscious level, that reaction sinks into our mind's subconscious, like an abyss. Since the moment of our birth, our subconscious begins to accumulate all of our saṅkhāras. This is why we react negatively to things - even if we pretend things don't bother us at the conscious level, we still feel negativity, and the source of the negativity is in the root of our minds, in our subconscious.

Through objectively observing one's own body, treating all sensations equanimously (not having preference for one type of sensation over another), the mind trains itself not to react to sensations caused by external objects on the body, or to sensations of thought in the mind. The conscious level of the mind develops resistance to cravings (attachments) and avulsions (negative reactions), the source of all misery. Soon, the conscious mind conquers its cravings and avulsions. However, this is only the surface level of the mind. Once the conscious level of the mind is purified, then all of those saṅkhāras accumulated from the past, begin to bubble to the surface from the subconscious mind.

Over many years of practice, the subconscious mind also becomes purified of all cravings and avulsions. Then enlightenment will be reached, the mind's source of all misery is eliminated, and all that's left is love and compassion.
Daily meditation was instructed by audio and video recordings of S.M. Goenka from India. Vipassana meditation got rid of his migraines, and caused him to renounce his life of business and start a non-profit to spread the Dhamma teachings
So that's how it works! If you're still not convinced I will throw you one more bone to chew on...

While most belief systems ask you to behave with morality, the temptations are always present, causing people to break their morality. Religions ask you to accept its theories at a surface level, however, this does not address how the subconscious mind thinks and reacts to temptations. With Dhamma, sitters go beyond just accepting the theories of Dhamma; they use experiential learning, through meditating and looking inward, to confirm that those theories are true. This is the true hook of the path of Dhamma.

Experiential learning provides the ultimate wisdom. When modern scientists recently used quantum theory to determine that all matter, animate and inanimate, was made of subatomic particles, vibrating at blinding speeds, they were shocked to find out that an enlightened being in India already obtained this knowledge. Scientists had the theory but not the experiential learning, which was accomplished by the enlightened being through looking inward.

This is the ultimate example of a mindblowing connection between modern and ancient science.
Another look at the main dining hall
I entered the 10-day retreat simply looking for some peace and quiet from the fast-paced ultra distracting city life, and also for a new experience which a friend recommended as life changing. I came in without any idea of what I was about to do or learn, but with an open mind. I emerged from it feeling very happy, like a thin shield surrounded me, repelling negativity. The truth is, there is no shield, and that negative sensations were (and still are) hitting me 24/7, but I chose not to react to them. This is what Dhamma taught me, and as I was able to learn through experience.

My best friend Henry happened to complete the same 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in India at nearly the same time (he will also blog about it) and he also had a similar experience.

This certainly was no vacation. It was hard work, probably harder than my office job, and I went through many highs and lows during my practice, as did all sitters, many who returned several times. But the benefits are farther-reaching than any stereotypical vacation.

You can do the same. I highly recommend this to you, especially if you experience negativity and stress from all directions on your daily path. Even if you are generally a happy person, life is full of ups and downs, and practicing Dhamma enables you to weather those ups and downs with a strong determination (adhiṭṭhāna). And it's amazing the difference that simply being distraction free and able to be introspective can have on your mind.

The non-profit organization, simply Dhamma, holds courses almost all over the world. Payment is by donation after the course. Check it out at

Thanks for reading!

~Metta (Pali for loving compassion)
March 2013 - meditating in the 

1 comment:

  1. This was captured all the information well...bola