Tag Archives: Goenka

I am here to serve

I did my first 10-day Vipassana course in Delhi, Gurgaon. Vipassana meditators run all the Vipassana courses on a volunteer basis – nobody is paid. They do it because they want to and genuinely too. I had to do two more courses before the desire to serve arose in me.

I remember standing at the door in Dhamm Dipa in London and saying aloud for the first time in my life – “I am here to serve.” Vipassana changed my life and continues to change my life – it is hard work, I won’t lie, but it does change the grand canyons I have built in mind consciously or unconsciously. This blog is dedicated to Vipassana and S.N.Goenka who brought this course to the rest of the world from Burma.

If you have ever done one of the 10-day courses in Vipassana as taught by S.N.Goenka, then the following will resonate with you – more so if you have served.

One of the rules we have to observe is segregation between males and females – they have separate quarters, separate dining rooms, etc. When we (dhamma servers as Goenka Ji likes to call us) are preparing meals in the kitchen, you will hear statements like
– Is the female rice ready?
– Do we need Male Olive Oil?
Everything is divided into three categories – female, male or serve because that is how we partition food and prepare the dining rooms and set the food out.

Second, gongs – I never wear my watch in Vipassana because life is so simple and everything is announced with a gong. There is a morning gong that wakes you up, gong before every lunch, gong after breaks, gong before group sits. If you miss the gong – the course manager will make sure you don’t forget. And I remember the first time I rang the gong – the vibrations from the gong centered me to the core.

Third, silence. It is a silent retreat. You do not speak unless asking for supplies or questions for the teacher when you are sitting a course. While serving there is talking but very less, and all the students are silent. There is something about the quietness that lets you hear the incessant chatter of the mind and move towards just observing it and not becoming it. Nine days of silence increases the depth to which you explore with every course.

At the end of the course, Goenka Ji says that one of the reasons there is no charge for the Vipassana course is – “What price will you pay?” The teaching is so invaluable there is nothing you can pay that can compare to the value you get. There are some things in life which are truly priceless, and Vipassana is one such gem for me.

I am eternally grateful
– to Buddha for discovering it
– to all the teachers who maintained the teaching
– to Goenka Ji who helped spread it to the rest of the world where I could receive it
– that I got the human birth
– that I was born in a period where dhamma in its pure form is being taught

My heart overflows with gratitude.
May all beings be happy!

Right Path

Let’s take a scenario: You have a early morning meeting at work. And for some reason you slept late the previous night and woke up late. You forgot to make your lunch and it’s your turn to take the puppy out for a morning walk.

I am sure all of us have experienced the following scenarios
1.You work up feeling really great, early morning hour traffic was non existent, your husband decided to take the puppy out – things just flowed and it felt as if the universe was going out of its way to ensure you get to the meeting. And you reached your office in plenty of time and even managed to get Starbucks coffee on your way in.

2. You woke up feeling grumpy,not only you have to take the dog out but also drop him to the day care, and there was an accident on top of the rush hour traffic and by the time you reached office you had missed a couple of meetings and rest of the day was not looking that great either.

There are lots of other examples of being in the flow – when the mojo is just right. Like for one person the promotion was like a cakewalk where as for somebody it took them years. We have all had experiences where it felt as if you were making things happen and also when everything that could go wrong went wrong. And most of the times there is no direct connection between what you did to “deserve” one of the above options.

This is why I love the book “The Artist’s way” by Julia Cameron – she has a way of saying things very clearly and seems to touch a chord in almost all of us in some shape or form if we are ready for it.

If we are on the right track – the one that will make us a better human being then things will happen – timing might not be as we expected but they will. Even when we think the things are not happening as we want them – what is happening is what we exactly need. Like a kid who has a cold but refuses to take the medicine because its bitter but that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

So then how can we make sure we are in the flow or on the right track. Let’s say you plant a seed of a Neem tree (a very bitter medicinal plant) and you stand in front of it and say “I want sweet mangoes, I want sweet mangoes.” There is no way you are going to get sweet mangoes – you will get bitter Neem leaves only. It is the law of nature – similarly if we plant bitter seeds in our life then we will bear bitter fruits and if plant good seeds then we will taste sweet mangoes in our life. [Credit of the story goes to Goenka Ji from Vipassana]

What are bitter and good seeds then? If we think kind thoughts,do good deeds, enjoy the success of others – these are examples of good seeds. And if we keep cursing others, calling them names when they are not looking or try to prove them wrong so that we can prove ourselves right, take joy in other’s plight then we are planting bitter seeds.

The picture below says it all

Running Away

The story goes – Abraham Lincoln’s brother wrote him a letter stating that he wanted to move from his current location because he didn’t like the people, didn’t like the place. His brother moved places and after a few months the same story and the same letter to Lincoln. Lincoln wrote back and said, “How could you expect anything to change when you took the problem with you?”

Let’s look at another example, you have got a boil on your arm that refuses to go away and causes a lot of pain. You keep changing the shirts and even move places but the pain does not go away. Any logical person would point out that how could the pain go away when the problem is in you?

It all seems very logical and common sense to us now. How about the situation in our life when we wished that somebody would leave our team? if only the family member we found annoying would go away? If only the next guy I date was really serious? If only the difficult stakeholder would get a new job? If only my boss would quit? The list is endless – everybody else should go away because I am squeaky clean. Sounds familiar?

The world is like a mirror – it reflects back only you. Everybody including the people you like, don’t like, detest, hate, care about are all showing you some part of yourself. If you take it a step further then you actually created them in some sense too, but let’s leave that for now. Wishing other people to go away is not going to take away your problem unless the root of the problem is solved. And it is all within us and we have the power to change ourselves but often times we don’t because it is easy to blame others and be a victim as then I don’t have to do anything else.

Universe wants the best for you and like a loving parent will do whatever it takes to make you better or learn the lesson so that you can grow. And like the casino , universe wins ALL the time so you better listen to it. If you don’t pay attention to its small nudges it will give you a tight slap but it will make you learn the lesson.

Next time when you find the person who annoys you in your life be grateful as now universe is offering you a chance to learn the lesson. Make the most of it with gratitude and courage. It take courage to face our fears and work on one self. The hardest part for working on ourself is that the image we have of ourself breaks and we don’t like that. In our mind we have this lovely beautiful image – I am so great, I am so this and that. And when somebody comes into our life and shows the mirror to us we don’t like what the mirror shows so we blame the person showing the mirror.

As Goenka ji says in Vipassana – if we become aware that we have created the image and have become attached to it. And it’s that attachment that is causing us suffering then light will shine.

Khanti – Patience , Forbearance,Forgiveness

In one of my previous blogs I had talked about the 10 Paramis or Virtues. Today I want to talk about one of them which is

6. Khanti: Patience
May I ever be patient.
May I be able to bear and forbear the wrongs of others.
May I ever be tolerant and see the good and beautiful in all.

Like everything else this also has many layers to it. First stage is trying to get over the fact that it doesn’t matter if I think the other party is wrong or right – focus is on me being able to bear it and be calm about it. Second stage is just the limits to which you can bear it – like my previous blog about bending in the wind. If you are working to develop this parami then with every such incident in your life you bend a little bit more before you snap right back up. And like all great things in life this takes practice too. The more you practice the more you will be able to bend without breaking or snapping up.

Forbearance or self-control is the ability to exercise restraint, to stay in balance. It is disciplining yourself to be measured and temperate in your response to trying circumstances. It is being patient and even keeled while enduring hardships. It is having the ability to constrain your own worst impulses and allowing thoughtful, wiser aspects of yourself to govern what you say and do.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Forbearance protects us against doing harm on impulse in the throes of anger or fear. Since so much of virtue is about finding a balance point between two kinds of excess, forbearance helps to keep us close to the center of our better selves.

What does it mean for us in real life? If somebody is annoying you then a)you don’t get annoyed b)you are still at peace c)you are grateful to that person for helping you strengthen your practice of Khanti. This depends on what your overall goal is – let’s say your goal in life is to get retired at the age of 50 or another goal could be to the better version of myself. How you approach a situation will depend on what goals you have? If all you care about is making money and retiring early then you will have a short-sighted approach. Where as if you want to be happy peaceful forever you will adopt a long term strategy of developing your patience.

It is possible that you can still practice patience with the goal of retiring early – the point is sometimes you have to revisit your ultimate goal to put this virtue into practice. These things take time and when the student is ready the teacher does appear. And also it depends on how important it is for your to develop this virtue? To reach to the point of ultimate patience is really long and every journey starts with small steps – it is only by taking one step a time then we complete out journey with Patience!

Habits – inner change

Let’s say you have a poisonous tree in your backyard – it is infected by some insect which is causing it to be poisonous. The infection is in the roots of the tree. You keep cutting the tree down and telling yourself that the problem is solved. At a superficial level it does look like as if the problem has gone away. But after sometime the tree grows again and the cycle starts again.

Imagine if the cycle kept getting repeated – you are getting frustrated because you have cut down the tree so many times but still it keeps rearing its ugly head. You read a lots of books, you try a lots of pesticides but nothing is working the tree still keeps growing.

I am sure at this point you are thinking – ‘Duh! the infection is in the roots until we treat the roots the problem will not go away’

Guess what this is what we do with ourselves too:
Let’s say you want to lose weight – you go on fad diets, you go on different diets, you stop eating sugar/gluten/dairy, you try exercising but the weight keeps coming back.
Let’s say you want to meditate every day – you listen to meditation tapes, you look for group sits, you look for courses, you manage to sit for an hour for a week, then 30 minutes and then you are back to not meditating.
List is endless – isn’t it and the reason is the same we are not tackling the problem at the root level.

For simplicity and due to my own limited knowledge let’s say there are two kinds of minds – conscious mind which we will call intellect and the unconscious mind which we will call subconscious.

The so-called subconscious mind is not unconscious – in fact it keeps reacting all the time. Reacting to what? Whenever the outside world comes in contact with one of our sense doors (eyes/ears/nose/tongue/skin/mind) then a part of our mind evaluates the sensation and passes judgement [I like it or I don’t like it] and then the subconscious mind reacts accordingly with attachment or aversion. For example, you see a successful person and you have feelings of aversion because your past experiences recall unpleasant sensations when interacting with such people or if you see a cheesecake you desire it because your past experiences recall pleasant sensations on eating it.

At the intellectual level we all know very well – that the problem is not in the successful person or in the cheesecake, it is within me. And you work at the intellectual level and it calms down and it’s good – no doubt about it. It’s good to cut down the tree atleast if you cannot reach the roots yet. But working at the intellectual level does not solve the problem.

We have to bring awareness to our subconscious mind that the sensations are neither pleasant or unpleasant – it’s only judgement that is passed when we have a contact at our sense doors. And another aspect of it that the sensations are temporary – the desire to eat cheesecake is not eternal, it comes and goes.

Vipassana Meditation teaches us how to get to the root level and work at that level bringing profound and long lasting changes. I am very grateful to Buddha who discovered the technique, Webu Saydaw-U Ba Kin for continuing it and Goenka ji to bringing it to India.

Viriya – Effort

This blog follows the last one where I talk about the different ways in which we can accept or not accept other’s judgements/opinions.

In this blog I am going to talk about how to increase the “effort” factor in implementing the different ways. Before we get started let me explain what I mean by “effort – viriya”. If you recall in one of my blogs I talk about the Ten Perfections (Paramis)

Viriya: Energy
May I be energetic, vigorous and persevering.
May I strive diligently until I achieve my goal.
May I be fearless in facing dangers and courageously surmount all obstacles.
May I be able to serve others to the best of my ability.

Viriya in simple terms means Energy, that’s it. Pure and simple energy. Every time somebody tries to impose/project their own imperfections/shortcomings onto you, you need effort to not accept those gifts. You can always apply more effort until you reach the final stage.

There are many ways to work on developing Viriya. First of all you can do it anytime – literally anytime. Let’s say you are driving to work and your mind is busy as usual passing opinions. Every time you bring your awareness to sensations to breathing instead of the opinions you are increasing the effort factor – every little bit counts. Imagine how easy it is to do this. And every time you do this your effort factor increases.

Secondly, every time you interact with someone and they are gossiping or doing unwholesome deeds (to the extent you can determine this) then observe your sensations – re-double your efforts.

Thirdly, you can always use physical activity to train your mind – this might be helpful in the beginning stages. For example, if you run or if you swim then do that extra 5 minutes or the extra lap. Every time you do this you are working on the muscle.

This is a little different from will power because the desire to increase the effort has to come from within. Until then try to light the flame of effort. Once it’s lit then it will be hard to put out.

And another thing to keep in mind is that what matter is the right kind of effort – which in Vipassana means being aware of your sensations in everything that you do. If you are sitting/standing/sleeping or as you go about your daily activities be aware of sensations. These has the double advantage of a) working on your effort/sensations b) mindfulness in your day-today work.

A big part of this practice is to know whether you are tuned up or not. And this comes by practice. Let’s say there are a few drops of water on table and you use a cloth and it absorbs all the water. Let’s say there is a glass of water and you use the same cloth to soak it all up – it won’t work. It is s continuous cycle as your cloth grows the more water you can absorb. The more water you can absorb the more the cloth will grow until there is no water/cloth.

Similarly the effort factor will increase every time you use it, the more you use it the more effort factor will be until there is just you.

To Accept Or Not Accept

In the 10-day Vipassana courses Goenkaji tells us some stories during the discourses. The one below is similar to the one Goenkaji narrates during the course.

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

Now how does this apply to us? There are two aspects to this – one who is giving you the gift and the one is accepting the gift.

ONE GIVING THE GIFT: We are all making judgements – a part of human conditioning. Some people might think you are kind, some people might think you are rude, some might think you are beautiful and some might think you are ugly. All these opinions are correct – from the perspective of the people who are passing these judgements. These opinions and judgements are a reflection of themselves really! This is why they say that world is a mirror.

ONE ACCEPTING THE GIFT: We have a choice as to whether accept the gift or not. But most of the time we don’t even know we have accepted the gift. What does accepting the gift mean? Let’s say somebody says you are ugly – what do you do? Do you just listen to what’s being said and let is pass like moving clouds [Then you have not accepted the gift]. Or do you think about what the other person said , ruminate about it for hours and want to get back at the person or the world, do you want to shout at the top of your voice and let everybody know that you are not ugly [Then you have accepted the gift].

Want to know how not to accept the gift? Watch out for my next blog post.

Priceless !

This blog is dedicated to all the priceless entities.

Vipassana meditation retreats that I keep mentioning in my blogs are free – they are run on a pay it forward or donation basis. You pay with what you can and pay only if you want – a lot of people come back and volunteer for another course as it is a completely volunteer run retreat.

The reason I mention this is because in one of his discourses Goenka Ji says, “What price will you pay for this teaching? This teaching is invaluable.” And I am beginning to realize more and more how invaluable it is. It helps us get out of the suffering that comes from being in the human predicament. If Buddha hadn’t figured a way out we would have to do it on our own. Buddha went through lifetimes to find this invaluable jewel – it is truly priceless.

Similarly, if you have gone to yoga class – the sequence of asanas has a reason behind it. And the asana itself – why lift your leg only this way, why not do only the right side – there is a lot of science and art behind it. Imagine coming up with a yoga sequence, be it Ashtanga – Iyengar – Bikram.

Ashtanga Yoga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.

How would we ever put a price on yoga?

Creativity is another example. We recently went to a Taiko performance by a Japanese Group Dadan.

There was a moment during the performance where I had tears in my eyes and I am not the sentimental type. But the energy and the creativity is so pure that you connect with it at such a deeper level that it stirs your soul and you experience a glimpse of the ultimate peace – that is priceless.

If you think about even the other items that have a price tag on it – for example a carrot – some farmer somewhere put the seed in, mother earth brought up the carrot along with little help from the weather elements like rain and sun. Someone plucked it, put it in truck, cleaned and through many other change of hands it ended up in the grocery store. Does the price tag take into account all that?

Another movement which is picking up some speed is the pay it forward movement. Pay it forward is an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor. An example of this is the Karma KitchenImagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those who dine after you.”

This blog is my namaste to all these priceless items which have helped me in my life and without these it would be incomplete.

Vipassana – Five Precepts

This is in some sense a continuation of the last blog – this time I want to talk about the five precepts. Before we get into that let’s talk about Sila, Samadhi and Panna.

vipassana

The picture above depicts the three groups of the Noble Eightfold Path – Don’t worry this is not going to be a in-depth analysis of the concepts mentioned in the picture above [Maybe another blog…]

Let’s talk about Sila – Morality.  The premise is that you need to have a strong Sila to get established and continue on the path. And in order for that you have to undertake five precepts in the beginning which are:

  1. to abstain from killing any being;
  2. to abstain from stealing;
  3. to abstain from all sexual activity;
  4. to abstain from telling lies;
  5. to abstain from all intoxicants.

1#, 2#, 5# are easy and very clear. For #3 – For householders it means “To stay celibate until they get married and limit themselves to one partner afterwards.

#4: is the one that I find the most hard. As a student in a 10-day course you are silent throughout the course so there’s no way to break this Sila. However, as a server on the course it’s very difficult. In order to understand why we need to know what we mean by Right Speech. When speaking, servers must practice Right Speech, refraining from:

  • Speaking lies or anything less than the truth.
  • Harsh language or rude words. Someone practicing Dhamma should always be polite and soft-spoken.
  • Slander or backbiting. There should be no criticism of others arising from one’s own negative feelings. A problem should be brought to the attention of the person concerned or to the assistant teachers or center management.
  • Idle gossip, singing, whistling or humming.

I admit that while having conversations I sometimes get carried away – For example: the story about when I splashed ink on a classmate in 3rd standard turns into me emptying the ink bottle on her. It’s difficult for me not to embellish my stories a little bit. There are tons of other instances where I genuinely don’t remember, for example: if I had send the report in an email or in the meeting invite.

I know, this is being too pedantic so let’s move onto the other aspects of the Right Speech – I am guilty of all other three. I know they are not good things to engage in but I still lack the will/strength to abstain from them. For example: if you are talking about a common friend A with another friend B – are you engaging in slander or backbiting? If you have a chat with work colleague over coffee about others is that Idle Gossip?

What is the right answer? Srikumar Rao – who taught us Creativity and Personal Mastery in London Business School had said “In this plane, you cannot find the answer and outside this plan there’s no one to ask this question.” or Sometimes you have to live the question long enough to start living the answer.

Why does it matter to me?

In a setting like a 10-day Vipassana Course it’s a lot easier to stick to the five precepts as everybody on the path. I am trying to maintain these in my daily life too because I believe they make me a better human being and they may lead to enlightenment but when I follow five precepts I Feel Good – end of story.

Leaving you with a words of Buddha

Whoever destroys living beings,
     speaks false words, who in the world
     takes that which is not given to him,
     or goes too with another's wife,
     or takes distilled, fermented drinks --
     whatever man indulges thus
     extirpates the roots of himself
     even here in this very world.

                        (Dhp. 246-7)

 

Vipassana – Meditation Musings

I just got back from serving at a 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat. Vipassana means to “See things as they are” and it’s one of the many ways to reach enlightenment or at least get started on the journey. It was bought to India by S.N.Goenka to whom I am very grateful.

gji-sittingbw

There are lots of things that come to mind when I think about Vipassana but today I am going to talk about Paramis. Paramis are ten qualities which when attained completely result in enlightenment. At this point I want to clarify that I am not enlightened [Ehrm! obviously] hence cannot guarantee as I don’t have the personal experience but regardless of the final goal these are good qualities to have.

What are these Paramis then?

1. Dana: Generosity
May I be generous and helpful

2. Sila: Morality
May I be well-disciplined and refined in manners.
May I be pure and clean in all my dealings.
May my thoughts, words and deeds be pure.

3. Nekkhama: Renunciation
May I not be selfish and self-possessive, but selfless and disinterested.
May I be able to sacrifice my pleasure for the sake of others.

4. Panna: Wisdom
May I be wise and able to see things as they truly are.
May I see the light of truth and lead others from darkness to light.
May I be enlightened and be able to enlighten others.

5. Viriya: Energy
May I be energetic, vigorous and persevering.
May I strive diligently until I achieve my goal.
May I be fearless in facing dangers and courageously surmount all obstacles.
May I be able to serve others to the best of my ability.

6. Khanti: Patience
May I ever be patient.
May I be able to bear and forbear the wrongs of others.
May I ever be tolerant and see the good and beautiful in all.

7. Sacca: Truthfulness
May I ever be truthful and honest.
May I not swerve from the path of truth.

8. Adhitthana: Determination
May I be firm and resolute and have an iron will.
May I be soft as a flower and firm as a rock.
May I ever be high-principled.

9. Metta: Loving Kindness
May I ever be kind, friendly and compassionate.
May I be able to regard all as my brothers and sisters and be and be one with all.

10. Upekkha: Equanimity
May I ever be calm, serene, unruffled and peaceful.
May I gain a balanced mind.
May I have perfect equanimity

How do I use them? Let’s take an example: I am at work and in a conversation with this person who just wants to talk and talk and talk. And I have only one thing to say and there are still 25 minutes left in the meeting – instead of getting annoyed I practice Khanti -patience [whenever I remember] and focus on my breath. This is one small way of looking at issues in your life and turning them around for your own personal growth.

Imagine these to be Ten Jars and size of the Jars vary depending on your previous Karmas – and if we put in one pebble/coin in one Jar everyday it definitely makes us a better human being and who knows might take us to enlightenment too!

May all beings be Happy!