30 Jul 2013, 12:58pm
Life
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Vipassana is a Must-Do

Recently, I went for a 10-day Vipassana camp at Jodhpur. It was a challenging, yet a very satisfying experience. I am sharing my experience for the benefit of everyone, and to debunk the myths that might be associated with it.

Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique discovered by Gautam Buddha, as a way of controlling your mind to get rid of suffering and achieve complete salvation about 2500 years ago. It become extinct from India after about 500 years, before it was brought back to India from Burma by Mr. S.N.Goenka in 1969. The technique is taught in 10-day programme, which includes about 10-1/2 hours of meditation every day starting from 4:30 am in the morning, and following a strict code of discipline, which includes 5 guidelines: no stealing, lying, indulging in sexual activity, etc. Along with this you have a maintain noble silence for 9 days, which means no talking to anyone apart from instructor and management, no use of phones, laptops, reading/writing materials. Food is served only 3 times a day.

On Day 0, the day before the camp started, I reached jodhpur via train, and went straight to the center. It gave me time to acclimatize with the place, and in the evening, I gave away all my valuables, including mobile, laptops, reading materials, which were kept in safe custody. Through an initial discourse my Mr. S.N. Goenka, I got to know about the origin of vipassana, understood the importance of the code of discipline imposed, and learnt the process of Aana-Pana, which means becoming aware of the breath. Also, it was re-iterated that everybody has to stay for 10 days.

On Day 1, we started practicing the Aana-Pana. We are told to keep our eyes closed throughout the session so that our mind doesnt get distracted. In the first morning session, it was really difficult for me to keep my eyes closed for the 2 hours session. I opened it just to find out that only 3-minutes were remaining. Still a big achievement, as I had never kept my eyes closed for this long consciously. Enjoyed the discourse in the evening by Guruji, which became my look-forward to feature of everyday. These every day discourses sought to clarify the purpose of what we were doing, to clarify on what religion truly means in its un-corrupted form, and the history of Vipassana.

On Day 2 & Day3, we again practiced the breath-awareness, along with becoming aware on which nostril the breath is entering & leaving, and where it was touching the inside of the nose. We also practiced becoming aware of sensations inside and near the nose. This is done to sharpen the brain.  We learnt not to react to any sensations mentally and physically. As per the discourses, these conditioned reactions are what causes our misery. We hate painful sensations, feeling anxious, and we get attached to feel-good sensations – wanting them more and more, finally ending in misery. I somehow stuck it out, even though it brought out a lot of anxiety within me, just to be sitting around. In one-particular session, I found it really extremely difficult to manage my overwhelmingly anxious thoughts. After struggling for an hour, fast breathing for a few minutes ultimately cleared my head.

On Day 4, we learnt the actual technique of vipassana, which included taking the mental awareness to different parts of the body and experiencing sensations in different parts. We had to again practice not reacting, not getting attached to any sensation – good or bad, and practice equanimity. We learnt about the adhishthan – which is taking a vow to not change posture. It came from Gautam Buddha, who has taken vow one night, not to change posture till he achieved Bodhi/Nirvana. From now on three sessions of 1 hrs were designated as adhishthan sessions during which we were encouraged not to change posture at all. I laughed inside and thought to myself – that this would be impossible for me.

Day 5 included a pleasant surprise for me. In the second adhishthan session of the day, I went through without changing posture for one hr with my back erect. This was nothing short of a miracle for me. Going forward I achieved this feet in almost all adhishthan sessions barring one or two, despite any amount of pain I experience. Also, I practiced not reacting and maintaining an equanimous nature to pleasant or unpleasant sensations.

Day 6,7,8,9 – included further refinements to vipassana finally also going inside the body to feel the sensations within. Experiencing sensations has a deeper objective of realizing our body as just a combination of waves which are produced one instant and destroyed the other. This deep realization has the power to dis-associate ourselves from the irrational thinking that we are the BODY, when we realize it for ourselves as nothing but a combination of waves.

On Day 10, finally we learned about Metta meditation which is wishing the very best for all our fellow beings.. This is done at the end of Vipassana meditation. After 10 am, we broke the noble silence, and we interacted among ourselves, took photographs. Still, the 3 adhishthan sessions were conducted as usual.

Vipassana finally ended on Day 11 after the morning session of 4:30 to 6:30. In this closing session, we were encouraged to continue practice of 1 hr in the morning and 1 hr in the evening every day.

Overall, this meditation camp was a really fulfilling experience filled with achievements and learning. I had heard a lot about Vipassana and the fact that it is very hard and very few people are able to get through it. It was definitely challenging, but at no-point the thought of quitting crossed my head. My main objective when joining this camp was to get the ability to sit for 20 minutes for meditation. I achieved it by handsome margin. Also, I realized what real religion is and how it has been corrupted by making it filled with rituals and practices, losing the essence. Also, I learnt about the importance of realizing things ourselves, and why it is so important for our growth and progress. Just by reading and doing debates is not going to give us real progress, unless we experience it and incorporate it in our lives wholeheartedly.

I strongly encourage everyone to attend this camp at-least once. This will give you a tool to manage your mind very effectively, which will serve you throughout life. Don’t be discouraged by the hard discipline and long hours of meditation involved. In extreme cases, you can discuss with the instructor who can accommodate any special needs you may have. More details can be found at http://www.dhamma.org/

24 Apr 2012, 11:59am
Life
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Should our happiness be dependent on getting what we want?

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed” – Mahatma Gandhi

You live in a house on rent and feel unhappy that you don’t have your own flat.
You feel unhappy that you don’t have the latest TV, or the big sedan. What makes you feel unhappy when you don’t have these things? Do you think you need that flat, that TV, that big car to be happy. Are these things your needs or wants? Is there a difference between a need and a want?

Needs are our really basic necessities of life. A little amount of food, adequate clothing, and a clean shelter are our only basic necessities. Food is a NEED, but having food at an expensive restaurant is a WANT. Having adequate clothing is our NEED, but buying a costly garment that we really like is our WANT.

We all have WANTs and it’s OK to have them, but our WANTs become a problem when we become unhappy when we don’t have what we want. We unconsciously become unhappy because of our endless wants, and consequently start running after them, believing that once we have them we will be HAPPY. We keep cribbing to our partners for that big house, big car, and spoil our relationships. In the process, we forget to appreciate what we do have.

There is no end to WANTs. Once you have that big car, a more stylish, a more expensive car will become attractive, and you will start feeling unhappy. The newer and better gadgets will keep catching your eye, and you will keep chasing them.

So, Is it wise to base our happiness on these ephemeral wants? We can remain peaceful, happy, contented, and grateful for what life has given to us. Carefully choose what we really want and would like to have in our life. We can go after what we want with a peaceful, patient, and happy state of mind. We will be that much more likely to achieve the desired result.

12 Nov 2011, 10:05am
Life
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Are you living your life by-default or by-design?

A lot of us feel dis-satisfied from life. We feel that our life is going on a treadmill, and we are just passing it by. We wake up every day, get ready go to work, have food, watch tv, and sleep. We do this day-in and day-out, and loose track of why we are doing what we doing. Gradually, we feel totally dis-engaged from life, and feel burdened by all the responsibilities and expectations that seem to be thrust upon us. We loose the sense of excitement and wonderment we once felt in our childhood. Why does such a situation occur, and is there an alternative to this treadmill of life?

We feel like this because we are not living our OWN life. Instead, we are living according to other’s expectations.  Since, our childhood we are told to behave in a particular way. We are asked to take up certain careers, we are told to marry at a certain age, and as soon as we get a job we forward to buy an apartment. This is what I call life-by-default, i.e. Living according to default way of living, without questioning whether we really want to be this way, whether we really want to take that career, or buy a particular house, or marry at a certain time.  No wonder we are always running around and feel empty inside.

An alternative to life-by-default is life-by-design. In this way of living, we first carefully think about what we want to accomplish in our life, in all its major areas. We think about what is important to us in our work, in our relationships, in our health, our leisure activities, contribution that we want to leave in this world. We clarify on these important areas and create a blueprint of how we want our lives to look like.

Once we have created a design of life that we truly feel aligned with, our next step is move towards the realization of this life. We break down our vision into smaller goals and work on accomplishing them one-by-one. Each step that we take brings us closer to our dream life. Instead of just watching life pass-by, we become an active participant in the creation of our life. We look forward to everyday as a chance to get closer to the life of your dreams. The joy that comes from progressive realization of our vision makes living on the whole very worthwhile.
Please share your views on the above article.

23 Apr 2010, 1:19pm
Life
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Purpose — The only thing you are lacking in life

All of us seem to be running after something in life. More money, power, sex, beauty, girl friends, etc. etc. It appears as if once you get these things magically all the life’s issues will get resolved, and life will become a bed of roses. However, it doesn’t happen ever. As soon as some desire is met, it is replaced by another one. As soon as you find a girl friend, you want her to be your wife, as soon as she becomes your wife you want her to respect and care for your family, and so on and so on. Such is the fleeting nature of our desires that we are running after. Then what is it that will give lasting satisfaction and fulfillment in life ??

All through my life, I have been running after things. First, I wanted to get good marks in board exams, then I wanted admission in IIT, after that I wanted a good job, not to mention my eternal search for the perfect girl friend.  Moreover, I was collecting stuff all the while. My wardrobe was filled with all kinds of branded expensive clothes, and I didn’t even know what things were kept where. I was working 10-12 hours a day, earning handsomely, and yet I was deeply pained. I went for MBA to US, thinking maybe United States of America will make me happy. No, I was mistaken. I got a decent job over there, and yet the pain continued. Living in the land of opportunities, I was still pained. Life sucked. WHY — I asked ??

An answer that came from nowhere hit me with a ton of bricks, and it made crystal clear what I was lacking in life. I had been living my life for myself, and I could never find lasting happiness unless I have a sense of meaning or purpose in life. That MANISH lived on EARTH really mattered for something bigger than himself. That Manish lived for a cause higher than myself. We will not get that sustainable peace until we have a sense of meaning or purpose in life. It is the eternal quest all of us have.

Upon getting this brainwave about purpose, my life took the strangest turn. I decided to quit my job then and there, and started looking for a worthwhile purpose that would give my life a sense of meaning. I decided that I will devote my life to enable people find more meaning in their lives, and create a life of their dreams with ample fulfillment and satisfaction, not necessarily more stuff.

Once committed, I was able to embrace all uncertainties of life. The once scared, fearful Manish was transformed into a courageous person almost overnight. I made more changes to my lifestyle in a matter of few months than I have been able to do in my whole life. I started getting up early, and exercising. I made changes to my eating habits, became more disciplined. I was no longer willing to add stuff to my life, unless absolutely needed. It stopped mattering much whether I was wearing a LEVI’s jeans or an unbranded one. All my life I have been searching for such a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, and make these changes in my lifestyle, but never was able to do so, then how did all this happen. This is the power that Mahatma Gandhi wielded, or Mother Teresa had, the power of PURPOSE. When you stop living your life for yourself, and start living for a purpose, you will get unimaginable power that you are able to surmount all circumstances, and problems.

Once you find a purpose to which you wholeheartedly want to devote your life to, your life will never remain the same. Everyday will take on a meaning in the context of that purpose. Circumstances will stop mattering that much. You will not require as much stuff to fill your life. Your sense of identity will rise above brands. No matter what situation / difficulties you are going through they will take on a new meaning in the context of your life.