After arriving in Delhi, India via Cedar Rapids/Minneapolis/Amsterdam, I checked into my hotel for a quick refresher before catching a local flight to Bodh Gaya, where I will be attending a 10 day Vipassana course. Exiting the airport in Delhi is always an assault on one’s senses, as there are so MANY noises, smells, colors and things happening for as far as the eyes can see. I had been practicing my Hindi at home, and was prepared to use my newly learned phrase “nahin chahiye” which means “I don’t want!” I had a wonderful surprise at the airport terminal when much to my surprise I was met by Vinay, who met me my last trip to assure I had safe passage to my hotel. I was beyond excited to be back in India, and anxious to start my adventure.
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gautama Buddha more than 2500 years ago. The technique directs the individual to concentrate on their breathing, noticing the breath going in and going out. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.
Since the time of Buddha, Vipassana has been handed down, to the present day, by an unbroken chain of teachers. Although Indian by descent, the current teacher in this chain, Shri S.N. Goenka, was born and raised in Burma (Myanmar). While living there he had the good fortune to learn Vipassana from his teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin who was at the time a high Government official. After receiving training from his teacher for fourteen years, Mr. Goenka settled in India and began teaching Vipassana in 1969. Since then he has taught tens of thousands of people of all races and all religions in both the East and West. In 1982 he began to appoint assistant teachers to help him meet the growing demand for Vipassana courses. S. N. Goenka died on September 29, 2013 at the age of 89 in Mumbai.
The course I will be attending is conducted in Bodhgaya, India. Bodh Gaya is just outside the city of Gaya, in the district of Bihar. The town of Bodh Gaya is considered one of the most important and holiest of all Buddhist sites. Pilgrims from all over the world travel to Bodh Gaya to visit the Mahabodhi temple where the bodhi tree grows that Buddha sat under and became enlightened. The technique is taught at ten-day residential courses during which participants follow a prescribed Code of Discipline, learn the basics of the method, and practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results.
The course requires hard, serious work. There are three steps to the training. The first step is, for the period of the course, to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants. This simple code of moral conduct serves to calm the mind, which otherwise would be too agitated to perform the task of self-observation. The next step is to develop some mastery over the mind by learning to fix one’s attention on the natural reality of the ever-changing flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. By the fourth day the mind is calmer and more focused, better able to undertake the practice of Vipassana itself: observing sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature, and developing equanimity by learning not to react to them. Finally, on the last full day participants learn the meditation of loving kindness or goodwill towards all, in which the purity developed during the course, is shared with all beings.
For the duration of the course, males and females are housed in separate areas of the complex. Dhammabodhi comprises of around 55 rooms on the male side and 52 rooms on the female side. 50% rooms are single occupancy. In a typical ten-day course, there are 80 females and 90 males and around 8 Dhamma servers supporting the course. During the entire course we are not allowed to speak, make lengthy eye contact, or communicate in any way. Upon check in all of our phones, computers, reading materials, ipods and ipads are taken from us and kept in lock up. We are also not allowed to take any written notes. Any input is kept to a minimum so that we can concentrate entirely upon becoming still and quieting our minds.
Our day starts at 4 a.m. when we get up for the day. We start our first meditation session promptly at 4:30 and our day ends at 9:30 p.m. which is lights out. We eat two small vegetarian meals each day and drink some warm tea before retiring for the night if we choose. We are given a short discourse at the end of the day by the facilitator, and a short break to stretch our legs, but for the rest of the time we are expected to be in silent meditation. This 18 acre campus was the first Vipassana campus built for group instruction, and is considered the “mother ship” of all the campuses located around the globe.
In a following blog I will talk more about my thoughts and impressions of the whole experience and give a more day by day account of the course. Today I am spending the day walking around Old Dehli before heading to Bodh Gaya tomorrow. Phir Milenge!