Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Challenges of Making Changes, Part 1

I went on the 10 Day Meditation Course at the Southwest Vipassana Mediation Center from September 12-23, 2012 and today is October 7, 2012. I had plans to come back and blog prolifically about my experiences and thoughts but it just hasn't happened that way, and I've been kind of disappointed about it. I haven't understood why I haven't been able to write about it until this morning after I had an unrelated conversation with a friend.

Since I've been home from the course, I've had several blows to my spirit, seemingly one after the other and its knocked me off my game. Before I left, several people told me that I would come back "all serene and spiritual", in a laughing way, and even though I had no idea how I would feel when I got home, feeling all serene and spiritual would not have been objectionable to me...But its been anything but that. The series of spiritual blows that have happened have left me exhausted physically and I've been pretty restless, irritable and discontent, as well. Not what I was hoping for. So I've been wondering why?

I've been looking for a path for my life, just any kind of actual path that lead to somewhere better than where I was. And I've tried many things over the years, a lot of them not helpful and some rather destructive.  In 2006, I started studying and reading about Buddhism and have known that it would be the path I settled on. Everything about it is right for me. But, I'm a procrastinator in the largest sense of the word so here it is 2012 and I'm finally getting serious about it. The 10 Day Course to learn Vipassana Meditation is one of the first big steps I've made towards getting serious.

This morning I have been reflecting and realize that often in my past when I've decided to make real and specific changes in my life, a battle begins. The things that I'm leaving behind in favor of something new suddenly get a really loud voice and start yelling at me. They don't want to be left behind and forgotten, they don't want me to change, they are afraid -- which translates to "change is hard, its easier to stay with whatever is familiar regardless of the cost and if I really do go through with the changes I might actually have to apply myself and feel some discomfort".

And there is another element to making a decision to create real change. The universe steps in to help. But the universe's idea of help doesn't always look or feel like help to me. The universe presents challenges that really makes me have to examine my decision to change and makes me put those decisions into practice right away. To a procrastinator, right away is painful and tiring. I need a nap.

More to follow.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Buddha Graffiti -- to hold the place until I can think about the 10 Day.

I just haven't been able to think since I got back from the 10 Day. I have a lot to say, I just haven't been able to verbalize in spite of really wanting 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Course - Day 0

I'm scribbling this out as fast as I can, trying to remember details. Since we couldn't have notebooks and pens, its all depending on my we'll see how it goes, lol. I'm not going back to edit, so be prepared for errors....

After several months of waiting, the day finally came to drive to the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center in Kaufman, Texas for my 10 day course. Silence. Seclusion. Two meals a day with some tea and fruit at 5 pm. I don't like tea. I had no idea what to expect and truth be told, I didn't know why I was doing this at all. But I was determined and strangely drawn to the experience. I hoped I brought the right clothes. I've been studying Buddhism off and on since 2006, and I've meditated with several groups around my town, but this was my first real, actual, intensive effort.

(I got all of these images from Google Images.)

I arrived a little frazzled since navigating is not my strong point, even with the advent of GPS. There were already a lot of cars in the parking lot and I could see people walking in with their suitcases and backpacks. I heaved the gigantic suitcase that my friend Karen let me use out of the back seat of the car and followed the signs that said Registration. Outside the door there were shoes and luggage everywhere, so I took off my shoes and pulled my suitcase over towards the wall, out of the way. Inside everyone was talking at once, filling out forms and handing over car keys, wallets, laptops, cell phones, purses and iPads. I got my room assignment and was told to just go there and unpack...there would be dinner later. Men and women were to be totally separated and I was to stay inside the the signs that said "Female Boundary". 

The place was nice. Noble Silence hadn't started yet, but the women were hesitant to talk to each other. Not the usual chatter that goes along with crowd of women. It didn't look like I imagined because the picture on the website was of a strange looking round building, labeled "the pagoda" just sitting out in a field of brown grass with nothing around it. But, there were a lot of nice new brick buildings, close together, with obvious thought given to leaving the natural trees and flow of the land. I instantly bonded with my little room...a small bed, a shelf to put my things and hang my clothes, a lovely tiled bath area. 

That evening, we were served an outstanding meal - vegetarian Tex-Mex food that was delicious. Afterwards everyone assembled outside the Dhamma Hall - the meditation hall - and were directed to the places where we would be sitting and meditating for the coming days. Remember that we were out in the Texas countryside - and the coyotes gave us a wonderful yipping and howling serenade while we waited to go in. 

It was a large, lovely room with white marble walls and a white marble walkway around the perimeter of the room encircling the white carpet where we would sit. The meditation cushions were royal blue, all set out in nice even rows. There was plenty of room for all of the meditators, I think about 100 in all. The teachers sat in typical Buddhist style on a raised platform in a recessed marble space. Their cushions were white.

There were no statues of Buddha or the Taras or anything of the golden splendor you expect to see in a Buddhist temple. The lack of these items made me think of S.N.Goenka's firm statement of -- no dogma, no religion, no conversion, no sectarianism. The only aim was to teach Vipassana meditation to help all beings be happy. We heard that a lot: May All Beings Be Happy. That is the whole point of the whole thing.

As the night progressed, we all vowed to honor Noble Silence. We affirmed that we would, for the whole of the course, follow all Five Precepts: I will not kill anything, I will not steal anything, I will not take any intoxicants, I will remain completely celibate and I will not speak lies. I said it and meant it. It was exciting and I felt like I was a part of something very special and very important. 

We listened to a Dharma Talk from Goenka that was inspiring, informative and often really funny. I liked him right away. I wish he had been there in person, but the excellent audio and visual system in the hall worked fine. There was a large view screen that lowered from the ceiling in the middle of the room and on either side there were large flatscreens mounted on the wall. Goenka lives in India now and his health is failing. 

But on the screen, he was a small, charming man, very brown skinned with grey hair. He had an endearing part in his hair that reminded me of a little boy with his hair combed neatly ready to go to school. But when he spoke that illusion disappeared. He was well spoken, engaging, intelligent and worldly. And he was compassionate and kind...and very passionate about the students working seriously, learning the Vipassana technique and coming out of misery. He knows the path to true liberation and he wants to teach it to as many people possible. 

At 9:00pm, the day ended and I went to my room to sleep...the 4:00am wake up bell would come soon enough. But before I went inside, I took a minute to look up at the Milky Way. I live in the city and hardly ever get to see stars, but out there away from the competing lights, I could see a lot of stars and was happy to see that Orion, The Little Dipper and Cassiopeia were still there. I could see Jupiter when I faced one way and Mars when I faced another - when I looked at Mars I thought about Curiosity, the Mars Rover, up there doing its thing. It was a spectacular moment.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Home Again

The 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Course is finished and..I did it! I haven't had time to sort anything out yet. But I do know that it is important and it has changed me. My challenge now is to sit one hour each morning and one hour each evening. I'm so blessed to find I have a fellow meditator right here in my town, we plan to meditate together when we can. And, there is another group of local Vipassana meditators that regularly sit together and they want to include the rest of us newbies. When I get my thoughts together, I want to blog about each day. Here's a few pictures - the entrance to the center and the Dhamma Hall and the Pagoda.

Entrance to the Center

The Dhamma Hall and Pagoda

Me, Happy at the end of Day 10

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Leaving Tomorrow for the 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Course

I'm ready as I'm going to be. I was going to meditate every day sitting in a wooden chair so that I would be more ready to sit for long periods of time, but I didn't get that done to the extent I wanted to. I have been meditating, but not in the wooden chair... I did exercise almost daily - I wanted to be more fit and limber going in. I'm feeling calm and I have some anticipation as to what it will be like, but my fears of getting too hungry or sleepy have gone. I worry a little, but not excessively, about my neck and shoulders hurting from so much sitting, but I can deal with that if it comes up. I am happy about the opportunity to learn the Vipassana meditation technique. I believe what I will learn about myself is going to be important. And, I hope that what I learn will benefit others directly or indirectly. I believe that this experience will be a good one. Now for my regular old stuff: Its my inclination to go buy a bunch of clothes, but I'm not going to. I'm getting a few pairs of yoga pants and some soft, muted colored shirts. And some socks. But otherwise, I'm just not going overboard. What a concept. I'm going to the store tonight and packing in the morning. And I'm hitting the road around 1:30pm tomorrow...Wednesday September 12, 2012... I'll report in when I get back.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Paige Bradley's Sculpture "Expansion"

I really wanted to put an image of "Expansion" on my blog, but after I posted it, I thought maybe I should ask the artist's, after the fact, I know. Anyway, I emailed her and here is the response. Her artwork is featured in the right hand sidebar.


Paige is very happy to have her work featured on your blog. Your message is wonderful and she loves sharing her work with like-minded people.

Thank you, Keli

On Sep 8, 2012, at 8:39 PM, Judy Simon wrote:

Dear Paige, I have a blog, Bodhichitta, and I put an image of one of your sculptures, Expansion, on it. That piece of art says everything I want to say with my blogging. I love it and would like to keep it there, but its yours so I need to ask if its okay. If its not okay, tell me and I'll remove it. The URL is:

Judy Simon

Keli Pharaoh
Paige Bradley Fine Art

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Art of LIving - Vipassana Meditation

Everyone seeks peace and harmony, because this is what we lack in our lives. From time to time we all experience agitation, irritation, dishar­mony. And when we suffer from these miseries, we don't keep them to ourselves; we often distribute them to others as well. Unhappiness permeates the atmosphere around someone who is miserable, and those who come in contact with such a person also become affected. Certainly this is not a skillful way to live.

We ought to live at peace with ourselves, and at peace with others. After all, human beings are social beings, having to live in society and deal with each other. But how are we to live peacefully? How are we to remain harmonious within, and maintain peace and harmony around us, so that others can also live peacefully and harmoniously?

In order to be relieved of our misery, we have to know the basic reason for it, the cause of the suffering. If we investigate the problem, it becomes clear that whenever we start generating any negativity or impurity in the mind, we are bound to become unhappy. A negativity in the mind, a mental defilement or impurity, cannot coexist with peace and harmony.

How do we start generating negativity? Again, by investigation, it becomes clear. We become unhappy when we find someone behaving in a way that we don't like, or when we find something happening which we don't like. Unwanted things happen and we create tension within. Wanted things do not happen, some obstacle comes in the way, and again we create tension within; we start tying knots within. And throughout life, unwanted things keep on happening, wanted things may or may not happen, and this process of reaction, of tying knots—Gordian knots—makes the entire mental and physical structure so tense, so full of negativity, that life becomes miserable.

Now, one way to solve this problem is to arrange that nothing unwanted happens in life, that everything keeps on happening exactly as we desire. Either we must develop the power, or somebody else who will come to our aid must have the power, to see that unwanted things do not happen and that everything we want happens. But this is impossible. There is no one in the world whose desires are always fulfilled, in whose life everything happens according to his or her wishes, without anything unwanted happening. Things constantly occur that are contrary to our desires and wishes. So the question arises: how can we stop reacting blindly when confronted with things that we don't like? How can we stop creating tension and remain peaceful and harmonious?

In India, as well as in other countries, wise saintly persons of the past studied this problem—the problem of human suffering—and found a solution: if something unwanted happens and you start to react by generating anger, fear or any negativity, then, as soon as possible, you should divert your attention to something else. For example, get up, take a glass of water, start drinking—your anger won't multiply; on the other hand, it'll begin to subside. Or start counting: one, two, three, four. Or start repeating a word, or a phrase, or some mantra, perhaps the name of a god or saintly person towards whom you have devotion; the mind is diverted, and to some extent you'll be free of the negativity, free of the anger.

This solution was helpful; it worked. It still works. Responding like this, the mind feels free from agitation. However, the solution works only at the conscious level. In fact, by diverting the attention you push the negativity deep into the unconscious, and there you continue to generate and multiply the same defilement. On the surface there is a layer of peace and harmony, but in the depths of the mind there is a sleeping volcano of suppressed negativity which sooner or later may erupt in a violent explosion.

Other explorers of inner truth went still further in their search and, by experiencing the reality of mind and matter within themselves, recognized that diverting the attention is only running away from the problem. Escape is no solution; you have to face the problem. Whenever negativity arises in the mind, just observe it, face it. As soon as you start to observe a mental impurity, it begins to lose its strength and slowly withers away.

A good solution; it avoids both extremes—suppression and expression. Burying the negativity in the unconscious will not eradicate it, and allowing it to manifest as unwholesome physical or vocal actions will only create more problems. But if you just observe, then the defilement passes away and you are free of it.

This sounds wonderful, but is it really practical? It's not easy to face one's own impurities. When anger arises, it so quickly overwhelms us that we don't even notice. Then, overpowered by anger, we perform physical or vocal actions which harm ourselves and others. Later, when the anger has passed, we start crying and repenting, begging pardon from this or that person or from God: “Oh, I made a mistake, please excuse me!” But the next time we are in a similar situation, we again react in the same way. This continual repenting doesn't help at all.

The difficulty is that we are not aware when negativity starts. It begins deep in the unconscious mind, and by the time it reaches the conscious level it has gained so much strength that it overwhelms us, and we cannot observe it.

Suppose that I employ a private secretary, so that whenever anger arises he says to me, “Look, anger is starting!” Since I cannot know when this anger will start, I'll need to hire three private secretaries for three shifts, around the clock! Let's say I can afford it, and anger begins to arise. At once my secretary tells me, “Oh look—anger has started!” The first thing I'll do is rebuke him: “You fool! You think you're paid to teach me?” I'm so overpowered by anger that good advice won't help.

Suppose wisdom does prevail and I don't scold him. Instead, I say, “Thank you very much. Now I must sit down and observe my anger.” Yet, is it possible? As soon as I close my eyes and try to observe anger, the object of the anger immediately comes into my mind—the person or incident which initiated the anger. Then I'm not observing the anger itself; I'm merely observing the external stimulus of that emotion. This will only serve to multiply the anger, and is therefore no solution. It is very difficult to observe any abstract negativity, abstract emotion, divorced from the external object which originally caused it to arise.

However, someone who reached the ultimate truth found a real solution. He discovered that whenever any impurity arises in the mind, physically two things start happening simultaneously. One is that the breath loses its normal rhythm. We start breathing harder whenever negativity comes into the mind. This is easy to observe. At a subtler level, a biochemical reaction starts in the body, resulting in some sensation. Every impurity will generate some sensation or the other within the body.

This presents a practical solution. An ordinary person cannot observe abstract defilements of the mind—abstract fear, anger or passion. But with proper training and practice it is very easy to observe respiration and body sensations, both of which are directly related to mental defilements.

Respiration and sensations will help in two ways. First, they will be like private secretaries. As soon as a negativity arises in the mind, the breath will lose its normality; it will start shouting, “Look, something has gone wrong!” And we cannot scold the breath; we have to accept the warning. Similarly, the sensations will tell us that something has gone wrong. Then, having been warned, we can start observing the respiration, start observing the sensations, and very quickly we find that the negativity passes away.

This mental-physical phenomenon is like a coin with two sides. On one side are the thoughts and emotions arising in the mind, on the other side are the respiration and sensations in the body. Any thoughts or emotions, any mental impurities that arise manifest themselves in the breath and the sensations of that moment. Thus, by observing the respiration or the sensations, we are in fact observing mental impurities. Instead of running away from the problem, we are facing reality as it is. As a result, we discover that these impurities lose their strength; they no longer overpower us as they did in the past. If we persist, they eventually disappear altogether and we begin to live a peaceful and happy life, a life increasingly free of negativities.

In this way the technique of self-observation shows us reality in its two aspects, inner and outer. Previously we only looked outward, missing the inner truth. We always looked outside for the cause of our unhappiness; we always blamed and tried to change the reality outside. Being ignorant of the inner reality, we never understood that the cause of suffering lies within, in our own blind reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant sensations.

Now, with training, we can see the other side of the coin. We can be aware of our breathing and also of what is happening inside. Whatever it is, breath or sensation, we learn just to observe it without losing our mental balance. We stop reacting and multiplying our misery. Instead, we allow the defilements to manifest and pass away.

The more one practices this technique, the more quickly negativities will dissolve. Gradually the mind becomes free of defilements, becomes pure. A pure mind is always full of love—selfless love for all others, full of compassion for the failings and sufferings of others, full of joy at their success and happiness, full of equanimity in the face of any situation.

When one reaches this stage, the entire pattern of one's life changes. It is no longer possible to do anything vocally or physically which will disturb the peace and happiness of others. Instead, a balanced mind not only becomes peaceful, but the surrounding atmosphere also becomes permeated with peace and harmony, and this will start affecting others, helping others too.

By learning to remain balanced in the face of everything experienced inside, one develops detachment towards all that one encounters in external situations as well. However, this detachment is not escapism or indifference to the problems of the world. Those who regularly practice Vipassana become more sensitive to the sufferings of others, and do their utmost to relieve suffering in whatever way they can—not with any agitation, but with a mind full of love, compassion and equanimity. They learn holy indifference—how to be fully committed, fully involved in helping others, while at the same time maintaining balance of mind. In this way they remain peaceful and happy, while working for the peace and happiness of others.

This is what the Buddha taught: an art of living. He never established or taught any religion, any “ism”. He never instructed those who came to him to practice any rites or rituals, any empty formalities. Instead, he taught them just to observe nature as it is, by observing the reality inside. Out of ignorance we keep reacting in ways which harm ourselves and others. But when wisdom arises—the wisdom of observing reality as it is—this habit of reacting falls away. When we cease to react blindly, then we are capable of real action—action proceeding from a balanced mind, a mind which sees and understands the truth. Such action can only be positive, creative, helpful to ourselves and to others.

What is necessary, then, is to “know thyself”—advice which every wise person has given. We must know ourselves, not just intellectually in the realm of ideas and theories, and not just emotionally or devotionally, simply accepting blindly what we have heard or read. Such knowledge is not enough. Rather, we must know reality experientially. We must experience directly the reality of this mental-physical phenomenon. This alone is what will help us be free of our suffering.

This direct experience of our own inner reality, this technique of self-observation, is what is called Vipassana meditation. In the language of India in the time of the Buddha, passana meant seeing in the ordinary way, with one's eyes open; but vipassana is observing things as they actually are, not just as they appear to be. Apparent truth has to be penetrated, until we reach the ultimate truth of the entire psycho-physical structure. When we experience this truth, then we learn to stop reacting blindly, to stop creating negativities—and naturally the old ones are gradually eradicated. We become liberated from misery and experience true happiness.

There are three steps to the training given in a meditation course. First, one must abstain from any action, physical or vocal, which disturbs the peace and harmony of others. One cannot work to liberate oneself from impurities of the mind while at the same time continuing to perform deeds of body and speech which only multiply them. Therefore, a code of morality is the essential first step of the practice. One undertakes not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to tell lies, and not to use intoxicants. By abstaining from such actions, one allows the mind to quiet down sufficiently in order to proceed further.

The next step is to develop some mastery over this wild mind by training it to remain fixed on a single object, the breath. One tries to keep one's attention on the respiration for as long as possible. This is not a breathing exercise; one does not regulate the breath. Instead, one observes natural respiration as it is, as it comes in, as it goes out. In this way one further calms the mind so that it is no longer overpowered by intense negativities. At the same time, one is concentrating the mind, making it sharp and penetrating, capable of the work of insight.

These first two steps, living a moral life, and controlling the mind, are very necessary and beneficial in themselves, but they will lead to suppression of negativities unless one takes the third step: purifying the mind of defilements by developing insight into one's own nature. This is Vipassana: experiencing one's own reality by the systematic and dispassionate observation within oneself of the ever-changing mind-matter phenomenon manifesting itself as sensations. This is the culmination of the teaching of the Buddha: self-purification by self-observation.

It can be practiced by one and all. Everyone faces the problem of suffering. It is a universal malady which requires a universal remedy, not a sectarian one. When one suffers from anger, it's not Buddhist anger, Hindu anger, or Christian anger. Anger is anger. When one becomes agitated as a result of this anger, this agitation is not Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim. The malady is universal. The remedy must also be universal.

Vipassana is such a remedy. No one will object to a code of living which respects the peace and harmony of others. No one will object to developing control over the mind. No one will object to developing insight into one's own nature, by which it is possible to free the mind of negativities. Vipassana is a universal path.

Observing reality as it is by observing the truth inside—this is knowing oneself directly and experientially. As one practices, one keeps freeing oneself from the misery of mental impurities. From the gross, external, apparent truth, one penetrates to the ultimate truth of mind and matter. Then one transcends that, and experiences a truth which is beyond mind and matter, beyond time and space, beyond the conditioned field of relativity: the truth of total liberation from all defilements, all impurities, all suffering. Whatever name one gives this ultimate truth is irrelevant; it is the final goal of everyone.

May you all experience this ultimate truth. May all people be free from misery. May they enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness.


The above text is based upon a talk given by Mr. S.N. Goenka in Berne, Switzerland

Self-transformation by Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is a very nice dharma talk from the Vipassana Dhura Meditation Society.

It is perhaps symptomatic of the "fallen" nature of the ordinary human condition that few of us pass the full extent of our lives comfortably reconciled to our natural selves. Even in the midst of prosperity and success, grinding notes of discontent trouble our days and disturbing dreams come to haunt our sleep. As long as our eyes remain coated with dust we incline to locate the cause of our discontent outside ourselves — in spouse, neighbor or job, in implacable fate or fluky chance. But when the dust drops off and our eyes open, we soon find that the real cause lies within.

When we discover how deeply the cause of our unhappiness is lodged in the mind, the realization dawns that cosmetic changes will not be anywhere near enough, that a fundamental internal transformation is required. This desire for a transformed personality, for the emergence of a new man from the ashes of the old, is one of the perennial lures of the human heart. From ancient times it has been a potent wellspring of the spiritual quest, and even in the secular, life-affirming culture of our own cosmopolitan age this longing has not totally disappeared.

While such concepts as redemption, salvation and deliverance may no longer characterize the transformation that is sought, the urge for a radical reshaping of the personality persists as strong as ever, appearing in guises that are compatible with the secular worldview. Where previously this urge sought fulfillment in the temple, ashram and monastery, it now resorts to new venues: the office of the psychoanalyst, the weekend workshop, the panoply of newly spawned therapies and cults. However, despite the change of scene and conceptual framework, the basic pattern remains the same. Disgruntled with the ruts of our ingrained habits, we long to exchange all that is dense and constrictive in our personalities for a new, lighter, freer mode of being.

Self-transformation is also a fundamental goal of the Buddha's teaching, an essential part of his program for liberation from suffering. The Dhamma was never intended for those who are already perfect saints. It is addressed to fallible human beings beset with all the shortcomings typical of unpolished human nature: conduct that is fickle and impulsive, minds that are tainted by greed, anger and selfishness, views that are distorted and habits that lead to harm for oneself and others. The purpose of the teaching is to transform such people — ourselves — into "accomplished ones": into those whose every action is pure, whose minds are calm and composed, whose wisdom has fathomed the deepest truths and whose conduct is always marked by a compassionate concern for others and for the welfare of the world.

Between these two poles of the teaching — the flawed and knotted personality that we bring with us as raw material into the training, and the fully liberated personality that emerges in the end — there lies a gradual process of self-transformation governed by highly specific guidelines. This transformation is effected by the twin aspects of the path: abandoning (pahana), the removal from the mind of all that is harmful and unwholesome, and development (bhavana), the cultivation of qualities that are wholesome, pure and purifying.

What distinguishes the Buddha's program for self-transformation from the multitude of other systems proposing a similar end is the contribution made by another principle with which it is invariably conjoined. This is the principle of self-transcendence, the endeavor to relinquish all attempts to establish a sense of solid personal identity. In the Buddhist training the aim of transforming the personality must be complemented by a parallel effort to overcome all identification with the elements that constitute our phenomenal being. The teaching of anatta or not-self is not so much a philosophical thesis calling for intellectual assent as a prescription for self-transcendence. It maintains that our ongoing attempt to establish a sense of identity by taking our personalities to be "I" and "mine" is in actuality a project born out of clinging, a project that at the same time lies at the root of our suffering. If, therefore, we seek to be free from suffering, we cannot stop with the transformation of the personality into some sublime and elevated mode as the final goal. What is needed, rather, is a transformation that brings about the removal of clinging, and with it, the removal of all tendencies to self-affirmation.

It is important to stress this transcendent aspect of the Dhamma because, in our own time when "immanent" secular values are ascendent, the temptation is great to let this aspect drop out of sight. If we assume that the worth of a practice consists solely in its ability to yield concrete this-worldly results, we may incline to view the Dhamma simply as a means of refining and healing the divided personality, leading in the end to a renewed affirmation of our mundane selves and our situation in the world. Such an approach, however, would ignore the Buddha's insistence that all the elements of our personal existence are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self, and his counsel that we should learn to distance ourselves from such things and ultimately to discard them.

In the proper practice of the Dhamma both principles, that of self-transformation and that of self-transcendence, are equally crucial. The principle of self-transformation alone is blind, leading at best to an ennobled personality but not to a liberated one. The principle of self-transcendence alone is barren, leading to a cold ascetic withdrawal devoid of the potential for enlightenment. It is only when these two complementary principles work in harmony, blended and balanced in the course of training, that they can bridge the gap between the actual and ideal and bring to a fruitful conclusion the quest for the end of suffering.

Of the two principles, that of self-transcendence claims primacy both at the beginning of the path and at the end. For it is this principle that gives direction to the process of self-transformation, revealing the goal toward which a transformation of the personality should lead and the nature of the changes required to bring the goal within our reach. However, the Buddhist path is not a perpendicular ascent to be scaled with picks, ropes and studded boots, but a step-by-step training which unfolds in a natural progression. Thus the abrupt challenge of self-transcendence — the relinquishing of all points of attachment — is met and mastered by the gradual process of self-transformation. By moral discipline, mental purification and the development of insight, we advance by stages from our original condition of bondage to the domain of untrammeled freedom

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Overview of Vipassana 10 Day Course

Vipassana is one of India's most ancient meditation techniques. Long lost to humanity, it was rediscovered by Gotama the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. The word Vipassana means seeing things as they really are. It is the process of self- purification by self-observation. One begins by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. With a sharpened awareness one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind and experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness. This truth-realization by direct experience is the process of purification. The entire path (Dhamma) is a universal remedy for universal problems and has nothing to do with any organized religion or sectarianism. For this reason, it can be freely practiced by everyone, at any time, in any place, without conflict due to race, community or religion, and will prove equally beneficial to one and all.

What Vipassana is not:

It is not a rite or ritual based on blind faith.
It is neither an intellectual nor a philosophical entertainment.
It is not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing.
It is not an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

What Vipassana is:

It is a technique that will eradicate suffering.
It is a method of mental purification which allows one to face life's tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.

It is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.

Vipassana meditation aims at the highest spiritual goals of total liberation and full enlightenment. Its purpose is never simply to cure physical disease. However, as a by-product of mental purification, many psychosomatic diseases are eradicated. In fact, Vipassana eliminates the three causes of all unhappiness: craving, aversion and ignorance. With continued practice, the meditation releases the tensions developed in everyday life, opening the knots tied by the old habit of reacting in an unbalanced way to pleasant and unpleasant situations.

Although Vipassana was developed as a technique by the Buddha, its practice is not limited to Buddhists. There is absolutely no question of conversion. The technique works on the simple basis that all human beings share the same problems and a technique which can eradicate these problems will have a universal application. People from many religious denominations have experienced the benefits of Vipassana meditation, and have found no conflict with their profession of faith.
Meditation and Self-discipline

The process of self-purification by introspection is certainly never easy--students have to work very hard at it. By their own efforts students arrive at their own realizations; no one else can do this for them. Therefore, the meditation will suit only those willing to work seriously and observe the discipline, which is there for the benefit and protection of the meditators and is an integral part of the meditation practice.

Ten days is certainly a very short time in which to penetrate the deepest levels of the unconscious mind and learn how to eradicate the complexes lying there. Continuity of the practice in seclusion is the secret of this technique's success. Rules and regulations have been developed keeping this practical aspect in mind. They are not primarily for the benefit of the teacher or the course management, nor are they negative expressions of tradition, orthodoxy or blind faith in some organized religion. Rather, they are based on the practical experience of thousands of meditators over the years and are both scientific and rational. Abiding by the rules creates a very conducive atmosphere for meditation; breaking them pollutes it.

A student will have to stay for the entire period of the course. The other rules should also be carefully read and considered. Only those who feel that they can honestly and scrupulously follow the discipline should apply for admission. Those not prepared to make a determined effort will waste their time and, moreover, will disturb others who wish to work seriously. A prospective student should also understand that it would be both disadvantageous and inadvisable to leave without finishing the course upon finding the discipline too difficult. Likewise, it would be most unfortunate if, in spite of repeated reminders, a student does not follow the rules and has to be asked to leave.

Persons With Serious Mental Disorders

People with serious mental disorders have occasionally come to Vipassana courses with the unrealistic expectation that the technique will cure or alleviate their mental problems. Unstable interpersonal relationships and a history of various treatments can be additional factors which make it difficult for such people to benefit from, or even complete, a ten-day course. Our capacity as a nonprofessional volunteer organization makes it impossible for us to properly care for people with these backgrounds. Although Vipassana meditation is beneficial for most people, it is not a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment and we do not recommend it for people with serious psychiatric disorders.

The Code of Discipline

The foundation of the practice is sīla — moral conduct. Sīla provides a basis for the development of samādhi — concentration of mind; and purification of the mind is achieved through paññā — the wisdom of insight.

The Precepts

All who attend a Vipassana course must conscientiously undertake the following five precepts for the duration of the course:

to abstain from killing any being;
to abstain from stealing;
to abstain from all sexual activity;
to abstain from telling lies;
to abstain from all intoxicants.

There are three additional precepts which old students (that is, those who have completed a course with S.N. Goenka or one of his assistant teachers) are expected to follow during the course:

to abstain from eating after midday;
to abstain from sensual entertainment and bodily decorations
to abstain from using high or luxurious beds.

Old students will observe the sixth precept by having tea without milk or fruit juice at the 5 p.m. break, whereas new student may have tea with milk and some fruit. The teacher may excuse an old student from observing this precept for health reasons. The seventh and eighth precept will be observed by all.

Acceptance of the Teacher and the Technique

Students must declare themselves willing to comply fully and for the duration of the course with the teacher's guidance and instructions; that is, to observe the discipline and to meditate exactly as the teacher asks, without ignoring any part of the instructions, nor adding anything to them. This acceptance should be one of discrimination and understanding, not blind submission. Only with an attitude of trust can a student work diligently and thoroughly. Such confidence in the teacher and the technique is essential for success in meditation.
Other Techniques, Rites, and Forms of Worship

During the course it is absolutely essential that all forms of prayer, worship, or religious ceremony — fasting, burning incense, counting beads, reciting mantras, singing and dancing, etc. — be discontinued. All other meditation techniques and healing or spiritual practices should also be suspended. This is not to condemn any other technique or practice, but to give a fair trial to the technique of Vipassana in its purity.

Students are strongly advised that deliberately mixing other techniques of meditation with Vipassana will impede and even reverse their progress. Despite repeated warnings by the teacher, there have been cases in the past where students have intentionally mixed this technique with a ritual or another practice, and have done themselves a great disservice. Any doubts or confusion which may arise should always be clarified by meeting with the teacher.

Interviews With the Teacher

The teacher is available to meet students privately between 12 Noon and 1:00 p.m. Questions may also be asked in public between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. in the meditation hall. The interview and question times are for clarifying the technique and for questions arising from the evening discourses.

Noble Silence

All students must observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day. Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow student, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited.

Students may, however, speak with the teacher whenever necessary and they may approach the management with any problems related to food, accommodation, health, etc. But even these contacts should be kept to a minimum. Students should cultivate the feeling that they are working in isolation.

Separation of Men and Women

Complete segregation of men and women is to be maintained. Couples, married or otherwise, should not contact each other in any way during the course. The same applies to friends, members of the same family, etc.

Physical Contact

It is important that throughout the course there be no physical contact whatsoever between persons of the same or opposite sex.

Yoga and Physical Exercise

Although physical yoga and other exercises are compatible with Vipassana, they should be suspended during the course because proper secluded facilities are not available at the course site. Jogging is also not permitted. Students may exercise during rest periods by walking in the designated areas.

Religious Objects, Rosaries, Crystals, Talismans, etc.

No such items should be brought to the course site. If brought inadvertently they should be deposited with the management for the duration of the course.

Intoxicants and Drugs

No drugs, alcohol, or other intoxicants should be brought to the site; this also applies to tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and all other sedatives. Those taking medicines or drugs on a doctor's prescription should notify the teacher.


For the health and comfort of all students, smoking, chewing tobacco, and taking snuff are not permitted at the course.


It is not possible to satisfy the special food preferences and requirements of all the meditators. Students are therefore kindly requested to make do with the simple vegetarian meals provided. The course management endeavors to prepare a balanced, wholesome menu suitable for meditation. If any students have been prescribed a special diet because of ill-health, they should inform the management at the time of application. Fasting is not permitted.


Dress should be simple, modest, and comfortable. Tight, transparent, revealing, or otherwise striking clothing (such as shorts, short skirts, tights and leggings, sleeveless or skimpy tops) should not be worn. Sunbathing and partial nudity are not permitted. This is important in order to minimize distraction to others.

Laundry and Bathing

No washing machines or dryers are available, so students should bring sufficient clothing. Small items can be hand-washed. Bathing and laundry may be done only in the break periods and not during meditation hours.

Outside Contacts

Students must remain within the course boundaries throughout the course. They may leave only with the specific consent of the teacher. No outside communications is allowed before the course ends. This includes letters, phone calls and visitors. Cell phones, pagers, and other electronic devices must be deposited with the management until the course ends. In case of an emergency, a friend or relative may contact the management.

Music, Reading and Writing

The playing of musical instruments, radios, etc. is not permitted. No reading or writing materials should be brought to the course. Students should not distract themselves by taking notes. The restriction on reading and writing is to emphasize the strictly practical nature of this meditation.

Tape Recorders and Cameras

These may not be used except with the express permission of the teacher.

Course Finances

According to the tradition of pure Vipassana, courses are run solely on a donation basis. Donations are accepted only from those who have completed at least one ten-day course with S.N. Goenka or one of his assisting teachers. Someone taking the course for the first time may give a donation on the last day of the course or any time thereafter.

In this way course are supported by those who have realized for themselves the benefits of the practice. Wishing to share these benefits with others, one gives a donation according to one's means and volition. Such donations are the only source of funding for course in this tradition around the world. There is no wealthy foundation or individual sponsoring them. Neither the teachers nor the organizers receive any kind of payment for their service. Thus, the spread of Vipassana is carried out with purity of purpose, free from any commercialism.

Whether a donation is large or small, it should be given with the wish to help others: 'The course I have taken has been paid for through the generosity of past students; now let me give something towards the cost of a future course, so that others may also benefit by this technique.'


To clarify the spirit behind the discipline and rules, they may be summarized as follows:

Take great care that your actions do not disturb anyone. Take no notice of distractions caused by others.

It may be that a student cannot understand the practical reasons for one or several of the above rules. Rather than allow negativity and doubt to develop, immediate clarification should be sought from the teacher.

It is only by taking a disciplined approach and by making maximum effort that a student can fully grasp the practice and benefit from it. The emphasis during the course is on work. A golden rule is to meditate as if one were alone, with one's mind turned inward, ignoring any inconveniences and distractions that one may encounter.

Finally, students should note that their progress in Vipassana depends solely on their own good qualities and personal development and on five factors: earnest efforts, confidence, sincerity, health and wisdom.

May the above information help you to obtain maximum benefit from your meditation course. We are happy to have the opportunity to serve, and wish you peace and harmony from your experience of Vipassana.


The following timetable for the course has been designed to maintain the continuity of practice. For best results students are advised to follow it as closely as possible.

4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room--Lights out

Is Vipassana a Cult? In a Word,

In word: no. But you can maybe be excused for wondering.

Vipassana meditation courses are often taught as 10-day silent retreats with a strict code of conduct. Among other things, you're asked to surrender your car keys, cell phone, iPod, reading materials, writing materials, and any valuables (including your cash); commit to remaining in a confined area for ten days (and hey! your car and the parking lot are 100% off-limits); and to abstain from verbal and non-verbal communication with staff members and other meditators. It's scary enough to commit to some amorphous and difficult spiritual journey. When you add physical and social isolation to the mix...who can blame a person for wondering?

I'll confess: I was a bit concerned before my first course. I'd done a bunch of research and hadn't found even a whiff of cultishness, but still...I was a little worried, and my mom was really worried, which made me more worried.
Want more info on Vipassana? The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation
The technique taught in the ten-courses was brought from Burma by S.N. Goenka. This book provides a nice overview of the Vipassana meditation technique and philosophy by one of Goenka's students.

Each night of the ten-day course features a discourse by Goenka, who discusses what has happened during the day and how it fits into the philosophy that underlies the Vipassana technique. This book is an overview of those summaries -- no where near as good as being there, but a good starting place if you're curious.

So I made back-up plans. My course was at the Dhamma Dhara Meditation Center in rural Massachusetts, and, since I didn't have a car, I took a train in from New York State and then prevailed on a old friend to drive me thirty miles or so into the countryside. I took careful mental notes as we approached our destination, plotting out a two-mile emergency escape hike from the meditation center to the nearest payphone. I had a secret stash of money and a written list of important phone numbers, in case I needed to call for rescue and couldn't get my cell phone back. And I had multiple friends and family members standing by...just in case.

None of this was necessary, of course. Vipassana turns out to be a delightfully open-minded non-religion. It has Buddhist underpinnings, of course, but you're free to ignore those, if you wish. Vipassana, more than anything, is a practice -- a mediation practice that is designed to train your mind to perceive clearly.

And this was, for me, the super-cool thing about my first course. It was such hard work, but I could actually feel my brain learning to operate differently. And not in a scary brain-washed kind of way, but in sharp-and-acute kind of way. With a nice overlay of emotional calm.

As it turns out, part of the way that you get to have that calm and clear feeling is by stripping away all your usual distractions. Like talking. And reading. And your cell phone.

For a lot of people, the no-talking rule seems the craziest and most difficult. I actually kind of like it, though. At the best of times, I need a lot of alone time. And in a situation like this, where you're eating and sleeping and sitting with others all the time, not having to construct and navigate social relationships with all those people helps mitigate that fact that you're living in awful close proximity to a bunch of strangers.

And not being able to interact directly with people helps illustrate the degree to which our normal reactions to people are all about us. In three courses, I have each time developed some kind of fascination with one person and some intense aversion to someone else. For no good reason. I usually work through it before the silence is lifted--but in every case, the person I irrationally disliked has sought me out afterward and made a connection. (And, does it go without saying that they always turn out to be lovely people?) If I got nothing else out the 10-day course, this alone would be extremely valuable: the realization that who I like and dislike has very little to do with the other person and everything to do with me.

So, as it turns out, I really like the silent aspect of the Vipassana course. For me, the last day of the course, when the rule of silence gets lifted, is hugely stressful. Most other people seems to gleefully throw themselves into conversation after conversation--but I tend to want to sit quietly off by myself somewhere.

I have much more trouble with the rule about not reading or writing. But, as with the silence, there are good reasons for it. Reading takes me out of myself in a way that it's diametrically opposed to the kind of mental attention that Vipassana is meant to develop. And since Vipassana is all about perceiving (but not reacting to!) bodily sensation, writing about that experience adds a layer of analytic distance that the meditation practice is trying to circumvent.

The scary Vipassana rules--no cell phone, no access to your car, no leaving the premises--are all in place because spending ten days paying minute attention to your breath and bodily sensations is crazy hard, and somewhere around day two or three, pretty much everyone is desperate to escape. Somehow. Anyhow. Dhamma Dhara doesn't have locks on any of its doors, so the ostensible reason for locking up your car keys, phone, and wallet is to prevent anyone from being tempted to steal. But, as much as anything, they're protecting you from yourself. There are a moments (for everyone I would imagine) when, if you could leave, you would. When, if you could call home, you would. When, if you could read or write or listen to music, you would.

Now depending on your perspective, an institutional attempt to protect competent adults from either themselves or the pernicious influence of the outside world might sound like the very definition of a cult. Here's why Vipassana is still not cult-like: When you attend a ten-day course, you are, in effect, asking to be instructed in a particular method of meditation. In return, your instructors will ask that, for at ten-day period, you adhere to a set of practices that have been found to facilitate the learning of this method. You accept those strictures willingly (or without coercion, anyway) and multiple times--when you apply for the course, when you first arrive, and immediately before instruction commences. For ten days, you agree to do what they say and see what you think. If you find it effective, great. If you don't, then on day eleven, you're free to go on your merry way.

So, if something about the idea of ten-day course attracts you, I would urge you to go for it. Make an escape and rescue plan if it'll make you feel better, but don't let fear prevent you from experiencing something amazing.

Mr. S.N. Goenka, Vipassana Meditation Teacher

Mr. Goenka is a teacher of Vipassana meditation in the tradition of the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma (Myanmar).

Although Indian by descent, Mr. Goenka was born and raised in Burma. While living in Burma he had the good fortune to come into contact with U Ba Khin, and to learn the technique of Vipassana from him. After receiving training from his teacher for fourteen years, Mr. Goenka settled in India and began teaching Vipassana in 1969. In a country still sharply divided by differences of caste and religion, the courses offered by Mr. Goenka have attracted thousands of people from every part of society. In addition, many people from countries around the world have come to join courses in Vipassana meditation.

Mr. Goenka has taught tens of thousands of people in more than 300 courses in India and in other countries, East and West. In 1982 he began to appoint assistant teachers to help him to meet the growing demand for courses. Meditation centres have been established under his guidance in India, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Nepal and other countries.

The technique which S. N.Goenka teaches represents a tradition that is traced back to the Buddha. The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma - the way to liberation - which is universal. In the same tradition, Mr. Goenka's approach is totally non-sectarian. For this reason, his teaching has a profound appeal to people of all backgrounds, of every religion and no religion, and from every part of the world.

Mr. Goenka was the recepient one of the prestigious Padma Awards from the President of India for 2012. This award is the highest civilian award given by the Indian Government.

S.N. Goenka Addresses a Peace Summit

In the Summer of 2000, Mr. Goenka, the principal teacher of Vipassana Meditation visited the United States and spoke, along with other world spiritual leaders, at the "Millennium World Peace Summit" at the United Nations World Headquarters in New York.
S. N. Goenka Addresses Peace Summit

By Bill Higgins
Date: August 29, 2000

NEW YORK - Vipassana Acharya S. N. Goenka addressed the delegates to the Millennium World Peace Summit as they gathered in the United Nations General Assembly Hall today - first ever gathering of religious and spiritual leaders in the UN.

Mr. Goenka's speech, in the session entitled Conflict Transformation, focussed on the themes of religious harmony, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

"Rather than converting people from one organized religion to another organized religion," said Mr. Goenka, "we should try to convert people from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberationand from cruelty to compassion."

Mr. Goenka gave his speech during the Summit's afternoon session to a group that included roughly two thousand delegates and observers. Mr. Goenka spoke in the session that followed CNN founder Ted Turner's speech. Mr. Turner is one of the Summit's financial patrons.

In keeping with the Summit's theme of seeking world peace, Mr. Goenka stressed in his speech that peace in the world cannot be achieved unless there is peace within individuals. "There cannot be peace in the world when people have anger and hatred in their hearts. Only with love and compassion in the heart is world peace attainable."

An important aspect of the Summit is the effort to reduce sectarian conflict and tension. Regarding this Mr. Goenka said, "When there is anger and hatred within, one becomes miserable irrespective of whether one is a Christian or a Hindu or a Muslim."

Similarly he said to a thunderous applause, "One who has love and compassion with a pure heart experiences the Kingdom of Heaven within. This is the Law of Nature, or if one would rather, God's will."

Appropriately to a crowd that included major world religious leaders he said, "Let us focus on the commonalties of all religions, on the inner core of all religions which is purity of heart. We should all give importance to this aspect of religion and avoid conflict over the outer shell of the religions, which is various rites, rituals, festivals and dogmas."

In summing up Mr. Goenka quoted the Emperor Ashoka who in one of his Rock Edicts said, "One should not honor only one's own religion and condemn other religions. Instead, one should honor other religions for various reasons. By so doing one helps one's own religion to grow and also renders service to the religions of others. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and harms other religions as well. Someone who honors his own religion and condemns other religions may do so out of devotion to his religion, thinking, "I will glorify my religion'; but his actions injure his own religion more gravely. Concord is good. Let all listen and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called the Summit "a gathering of the world's pre-eminent religious and spiritual leaders in a united call for peace that will hopefully strengthen the prospect for peace as we enter the new millennium."

Spiritual leaders who've been invited to the U.N.'s first-ever conference of this kind include Pramukh Swami of Swami Narayana Movement, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Agniwesh, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi and Dada Wasvani as well as eminent scholars such as Dr Karan Singh and L. M. Singhvi.

In reference to the participants' religious and cultural diversity, Annan has said, "the United Nations is a tapestry, not only of suits and saris but of clerics' collars, nuns' habits and lamas' robes; of miters, skullcaps and yarmulkes."

Though Annan has been repeatedly questioned about the Tibetan leaders absence, he has attempted to steer questions back to the Summit's goal, which he says are "to restore religion to its rightful role as peacemaker and pacifier - the problem of conflict is never the Bible or the Torah or the Koran. Indeed, the problem is never the faith - it is the faithful and how we behave towards each other. You must, once again, teach your faithful the ways of peace and the ways of tolerance."

The U.N. leader's hope is that since 83% of the world's population adheres to a formal religious or spiritual belief system, these religious leaders can influence their followers towards peace.

The U.N. is hoping the conference will move the world community towards, in the words of one document, "to acknowledge its spiritual potential and recognize that it is within our power to eradicate the worst form of human brutality - war - as well as one of the root causes of war - poverty. The time is ripe for the world's spiritual leadership to work more closely with the United Nations in its effort to address the pressing needs of humankind."

The Summit will end this Thursday on 31 August when participants will sign a Declaration for World Peace and form an International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, which will work with the United Nations and the U.N. Secretary-General in peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts.

"The goal of the International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders is to enhance and strengthen the work of the United Nations," said Bawa Jain, the Secretary-General of the World Peace Summit. "It is our earnest hope that in times of conflict, the world's great religious and spiritual leaders can be parachuted into these hotspot to seek non-violent resolutions to the conflicts."

The following is the complete text of the address given by Mr. Goenka on Tuesday, 29 August 2000 in the United Nations General Assembly Hall to the participants of the Millennium World Peace Summit.

When there is darkness, light is needed. Today, with so much agony caused by violent conflict, war and bloodshed, the world badly needs peace and harmony. This is a great challenge for religious and spiritual leaders. Let us accept this challenge.

Every religion has an outer form or shell, and an inner essence or core. The outer shell consists of rites, rituals, ceremonies, beliefs, myths and doctrines. These vary from one religion to another. But there is an inner core common to all religions: the universal teachings of morality and charity, of a disciplined and pure mind full of love, compassion, goodwill and tolerance. It is this common denominator that religious leaders ought to emphasize, and that religious adherents ought to practice. If proper importance is given to the essence of all religions and greater tolerance is shown for their superficial aspects, conflict can be minimized.

All persons must be free to profess and follow their faith. In doing so, however, they must be careful not to neglect the practice of the essence of their religion, not to disturb others by their own religious practices, and not to condemn or belittle other faiths.

Given the diversity of faiths, how do we surmount the differences and achieve a concrete plan for peace? The Buddha, the Enlightened One, was often approached by people of different views. To them he would say, "Let us set aside our differences. Let us give attention to what we can agree on, and let us put it into practice. Why quarrel?" That wise counsel still retains its worth today.

I come from an ancient land that has given rise to many different schools of philosophy and spirituality over the millennia. Despite isolated instances of violence, my country has been a model of peaceful co-existence. Some 2300 years ago it was ruled by Ashoka the Great, whose empire extended from present-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh. Throughout his realm, this compassionate ruler caused edicts to be inscribed on stone, proclaiming that all faiths should be respected; and as a result, followers of all spiritual traditions felt secure under his sway. He asked people to live a moral life, to respect parents and elders, and to abstain from killing. The words in which he exhorted his subjects are still relevant today:

One should not honor only one's own religion and condemn other religions. Instead, one should honor other religions for various reasons. By so doing one helps one's own religion to grow and also renders service to the religions of others. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and harms other religions as well. Someone who honors his own religion and condemns other religions may do so out of devotionto his religion, thinking, 'I will glorify my religion'; but his actions injure his own religion more gravely. Concord is good. Let all listen and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others. (Rock Edict12)

Emperor Ashoka represents a glorious tradition of tolerant co-existence and peaceful synthesis. That tradition lives on among governments and rulers today. An example is the noble monarch of Oman, who has donated land for churches and temples of other faiths while practicing his own religion with all devotion and diligence. I am sure that such compassionate rulers and governments will continue to arise in future in many lands around the world. As it is said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

It is all too clear that the votaries of violence primarily hurt their own kith and kin. They may do so directly, through their intolerance, or indirectly, by provoking a violent response to their actions. On the other hand, it is said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." This is the law of nature. It may equally be called the decree or way of God. The Buddha said, "Animosity can be eradicated not by animosity but only by its opposite. This is an eternal Dharma [spiritual law]." What is called Dharma in India has nothing to do with Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism or any other "ism". It is this simple truth: before you harm others, you first harm yourself by generating mental negativity; and by removing the negativity, you can find peace within and strengthen peace in the world.
Peace of Mind For World Peace

Every religion worthy of the name calls on its followers to live a moral and ethical way of life, to attain mastery over the mind and to cultivate purity of heart. One tradition tells us, "Love thy neighbor"; another says, Salaam walekum - "May peace be with you"; still another says, Bhavatu sabbamangalam or Sarve bhavantu sukhinah - "May all beings be happy." Whether it is the Bible, the Koran or the Gita, the scriptures call for peace and amity. From Mahavir to Jesus, all great founders of religions have been ideals of tolerance and peace. Yet our world is often driven by religious and sectarian strife, or even war - because we give importance only to the outer shell of religion and neglect its essence. The result is a lack oflove and compassion in the mind.

Peace in the world cannot be achieved unless there is peace within individuals. Agitation and peace cannot co-exist. One way to achieve inner peace is Vipassana or insight meditation - a non-sectarian, scientific, results-oriented technique of self-observation and truth realization. Practice of this technique brings experiential understanding of how mind and body interact. Everytime negativity arises in the mind, such as hatred, it triggers unpleasant sensations within the body. Every time the mind generates selfless love, compassion and good will, the entire body is flooded with pleasant sensations. Practice of Vipassana also reveals that mental action precedes every physical and vocal action, determining whether that action will be wholesome or unwholesome. Mind matters most. That is why we must find practical methods to make the mind peaceful and pure. Such methods will amplify the effectiveness of the joint declaration emerging from this World Peace Summit.

Ancient India gave two practices to the world. One is the physical exercise of yoga postures (Asanas) and breath control (Pranayama) for keeping the body healthy. The other is the mental exercise of Vipassana for keeping the mind healthy. People of any faith can and do practice both these methods. At the same time, they may follow their own religions in peace and harmony; there is no necessity for conversion, a common source of tension and conflict.

For society to be peaceful, more and more members of society must be peaceful. As leaders, we have a responsibility to set an example, to be an inspiration. A sage once said, "A balanced mind is necessary to balance the unbalanced mind of others."

More broadly, a peaceful society will find a way to live in peace with its natural setting. We all understand the need to protect the environment, to stop polluting it. What prevents us from acting on this understanding is the stock of mental pollutants, such as ignorance, cruelty or greed. Removing such pollutants will promote peace among human beings, as well as a balanced, healthy relationship between human society and its natural environment. This is how religion can foster environmental protection.
Non-Violence: the Key to a Definition of Religion

There are bound to be differences between religions. However, by gathering at this World Peace Summit, leaders of all the major faiths have shown that they want to work for peace. Let peace then be the first principle of "universal religion". Let us declare together that we shall abstain from killing, that we condemn violence. I also urge political leaders to join in this declaration, given the key role they play in bringing either peace or war. Whether or not they join us, at least let us all make avow here and now: instead of condoning violence and killing, let us declare that we unconditionally condemn such deeds, especially violence perpetrated in the name of religion.

Certain spiritual leaders have had the sagacity and courage to condemn violence committed in the name of their own faith. There may be different philosophical and theological views of the act of seeking forgiveness or regretting past violence and killing; but the very acknowledgment of violence performed in the past implies that it was wrong and that it will not be condoned in future.

Under the aegis of the United Nations, let us try to formulate a definition of religion and spirituality highlighting non-violence, and refusing to countenance violence or killing. There would be no greater misfortune for humanity than a failure to define religion as synonymous with peace. This Summit could propose a concept of "universal religion" or "non-sectarian spirituality", for endorsement by the U.N.

I am sure that this Summit will help focus the world's attention on the true purpose of religion:

Religion sets us not apart;
it teaches peace and purity of heart.

I congratulate the organizers of this historic Summit for their vision and efforts. And I congratulate the religious and spiritual leaders who have had the maturity to work for reconciliation, giving hope to humanity that religion and spirituality will lead to a peaceful future.

May all beings be free from aversion and be happy.

May peace and harmony prevail.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Two Beautiful Sculptures by Paige Bradley

How to Practice Vipassana Insight Meditation

How to Practice Vipassana Insight Meditation

By Sayadaw U Pandita

Step-by-Step Instructions on how to do this important practice — the foundation of all Buddhist Meditations — from the famed Vipassana master Sayadaw U Pandita.

Vipassana, or insight meditation, is the practice of continued close attention to sensation, through which one ultimately sees the true nature of existence. It is believed to be the form of meditation practice taught by the Buddha himself, and although the specific form of the practice may vary, it is the basis of all traditions of Buddhist meditation.

Vipassana is the predominant Buddhist meditation practice in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was an important revival of this early form of meditation practice led bythe Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma. Following his death in 1982, Sayadaw U Pandita, who studied extensively with Mahasi Sayadaw, was chosen as his principle preceptor. U Pandita is one of the world's leading teachers of Vipassana meditation and has been an important influence on many Vipassana teachers in the West, including Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein of the Insight Meditation Society. He is the founder and abbot of Panditarama Meditation Centre in Yangon, Myanmar.

1. Which place is best for meditation?

The Buddha suggested that either a forest place under a tree or any other very quiet place is best for meditation.

2. How should the meditator sit?

He said the meditator should sit quietly and peacefully with legs crossed.

3. How should those with back troubles sit?

If sitting with crossed legs proves to be too difficult, other sitting postures may be used. For those with back trouble, a chair is quite acceptable. In any case, sit with your back erect, at a right angle to the ground, but not too stiff.

4. Why should you sit straight?

The reason for sitting straight is not difficult to see. An arched or crooked back will soon bring pain. Furthermore, the physical effort to remain upright without additional support energizes the meditation practice.

5. Why is it important to choose a position?

To achieve peace of mind, we must make sure our body is at peace. So it’s important to choose a position that will be comfortable for a long period of time.

6. After sitting down, what should you do?

Close your eyes. Then place your attention at the belly, at the abdomen. Breathe normally—not forcing your breathing—neither slowing it down nor hastening it. Just a natural breath.

7. What will you become aware of as you breathe in and breathe out?

You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe in and the abdomen rises, and as you breathe out and the abdomen falls.

8. How should you sharpen your aim?

Sharpen your aim by making sure that the mind is attentive to the entirety of each process. Be aware from the very beginning of all sensations involved in the rising. Maintain a steady attention through the middle and the end of the rising. Then be aware of the sensations of the falling movement of the abdomen from the beginning, through the middle, and to the very end of the falling.

Although we describe the rising and falling as having a beginning, middle and end, this is only in order to show that your awareness should be continuous and thorough. We don’t intend you to break these processes into three segments. You should try to be aware of each of these movements from beginning to end as one complete process, as a whole. Do not peer at the sensations with an over-focused mind, specifically looking to discover how the abdominal movement begins or ends.

9. Why is it important in this meditation to have both effort and precise aim?

It is very important to have both effort and precise aim so that the mind meets the sensation directly and powerfully.

10. What is one way to aid precision and accuracy?

One helpful aid to precision and accuracy is to make a soft, mental note of the object of awareness, naming the sensation by saying the word gently and silently in the mind, like "rising, rising . . .,” and “falling, falling. . ."

11. When the mind wanders off, what should you do?

Watch the mind! Be aware that you are thinking.

12. How can you clarify your awareness of thinking?

Note the thought silently with the verbal label "thinking," and come back to the rising and falling.

13. Is it possible to remain perfectly focused on the rising and falling of the abdomen all the time?

Despite making an effort to do so, no one can remain perfectly focused on the rising and falling of the abdomen forever. Other objects inevitably arise and become predominant. Thus, the sphere of meditation encompasses all of our experiences: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations in the body, and mental objects such as visions in the imagination or emotions. When any of these objects arises you should focus direct awareness on it, and silently use a gentle verbal label.

14. During sitting meditation, what is the basic principle to follow? If another object impinges on the awareness and draws it away from the rising and falling, what should you do?

During sitting meditation, if another object impinges strongly on the awareness so as to draw it away from the rising and falling of the abdomen, this object must be clearly noted. For example, if a loud sound arises during your meditation, consciously direct your attention toward that sound as soon as it arises. Be aware of the sound as a direct experience, and also identify it succinctly with the soft, internal, verbal label “hearing, hearing.” When the sound fades and is no longer predominant, come back to the rising and falling. This is the basic principle to follow in sitting meditation.

15. What is the best way to make the verbal label?

There is no need for complex language. One simple word is best. For the eye, ear and tongue doors we simply say, "Seeing, seeing...,” or, “hearing, hearing...” or, “tasting, tasting . . . .”

16. What are some ways to note sensations in the body?

For sensations in the body we may choose a slightly more descriptive term like “warmth,” “pressure,” “hardness” or “motion.”

17. How should you note mental objects?

Mental objects seem to present a bewildering diversity, but actually they fall into just a few clear categories, such as “thinking,” “imagining,” “remembering,” “planning” and “visualizing.”

18. What is the purpose of labeling?

In using the labeling technique, your goal is not to gain verbal skills. Labeling helps us to perceive clearly the actual qualities of our experience, without getting immersed in the content. It develops mental power and focus.

19. What kind of awareness do we seek in meditation, and why?

We seek a deep, clear, precise awareness of the mind and body. This direct awareness shows us the truth about our lives, the actual nature of mental and physical processes.

20. After one hour of sitting, does our meditation come to an end?

Meditation need not come to an end after an hour of sitting. It can be carried out continuously through the day.

21. How should you get up from sitting meditation?

When you get up from sitting, you must note carefully, beginning with the intention to open the eyes: "intending, intending”; opening, opening." Experience the mental event of intending, and feel the sensations of opening the eyes. Continue to note carefully and precisely, with full observing power, through the whole transition of postures until the moment you have stood up, and when you begin to walk.

22. Besides sitting and walking, what else should you be aware of throughout the day?

Throughout the day you should also be aware of—and mentally note—all other activities, such as stretching, bending your arm, taking a spoon, putting on clothes, brushing your teeth, closing the door, opening the door, closing your eyelids, eating and so forth. All of these activities should be noted with careful awareness and a soft mental label.

23. Is there any time during the day in when you may relax your mindfulness?

Apart from the hours of sound sleep, you should try to maintain continuous mindfulness throughout your waking hours.

24. It seems like a heavy task to maintain continuous mindfulness throughout the day.

This is not a heavy task; it is just sitting and walking and simply observing whatever occurs.

25. What is the usual schedule during a retreat?

During a retreat it is usual to alternate periods of sitting meditation with periods of formal walking meditation of about the same duration, one after another throughout the day.

26. How long should one walking period be?

One hour is a standard period, but 45 minutes can also be used.

27. How long a pathway do retreatants choose for formal walking?

For formal walking, retreatants choose a lane of about twenty steps, and then walk slowly back and forth along it.

28. Is walking meditation helpful in daily life?

Yes. A short period—say ten minutes of formal walking meditation before sitting—serves to focus the mind. Also, the awareness developed in walking meditation is useful to all of us as we move our bodies from place to place in the course of a normal day.

29. What mental qualities are developed by walking meditation?

Walking meditation develops balance and accuracy of awareness as well as durability of concentration.

30. Can one observe profound aspects of the dhamma [dharma] while walking?

One can observe very profound aspects of the dhamma while walking, and even get enlightened!

31. If you don’t do walking meditation before sitting, is there any disadvantage?

A yogi who does not do walking meditation before sitting is like a car with a rundown battery. He or she will have a difficult time starting the engine of mindfulness when sitting.

32. During walking meditation, to what process do we give our attention?

Walking meditation consists of paying attention to the walking process.

33. When walking rapidly, what should we note? Where should we place our awareness?

If you are moving fairly rapidly, make a mental note of the movement of the legs, "Left, right, left, right," and use your awareness to follow the actual sensations throughout the leg area.

34. When moving more slowly, what should we note?

If you are moving more slowly, note the lifting, moving and placing of each foot.

35. Whether walking slowly or rapidly, where should you try to keep your mind?

In each case you must try to keep your mind on just the sensations of walking.

36. When you stop at the end of the walking lane, what should you do?

Notice what processes occur when you stop at the end of the lane, when you stand still, when you turn and begin walking again.

37. Should you watch your feet?

Do not watch your feet unless this becomes necessary due to some obstacle on the ground; it is unhelpful to hold the image of a foot in your mind while you are trying to be aware of sensations. You want to focus on the sensations themselves, and these are not visual.

38. What can people discover when they focus on the sensations of walking?

For many people it is a fascinating discovery when they are able to have a pure, bare perception of physical objects such as lightness, tingling, cold and warmth.

39. How is walking usually noted?

Usually we divide walking into three distinct movements: lifting, moving and placing the foot.

40. How can we make our awareness precise?

To support a precise awareness, we separate the movements clearly, making a soft mental label at the beginning of each movement, and making sure that our awareness follows it clearly and powerfully until it ends. One minor but important point is to begin noting the placing movement at the instant that the foot begins to move downward.

41. Is our knowledge of conventional concepts important in meditation?

Let us consider “lifting.” We know its conventional name, but in meditation it is important to penetrate behind that conventional concept and to understand the true nature of the whole process of lifting, beginning with the intention to lift and continuing through the actual process, which involves many sensations.

42. What happens if our effort to be aware of lifting is too strong, or alternatively, too weak?

If our effort to be aware of lifting the foot is too strong it will overshoot the sensation. If our effort is too weak it will fall short of this target.

43. What happens when effort is balanced?

Precise and accurate mental aim helps balance our effort. When our effort is balanced and our aim is precise, mindfulness will firmly establish itself on the object of awareness.

44. What mental factors must be present for concentration to develop?

It is only in the presence of three factors—effort, accuracy and mindfulness—that concentration develops.

45. What is concentration?

Concentration is collectedness of mind: one-pointedness. Its characteristic is to keep consciousness from becoming diffuse or dispersed.

46. What will we see as we get closer and closer to the lifting process?

As we get closer and closer to this lifting process, we will see that it is like a line of ants crawling across the road. From afar the line may appear to be static, but from closer up it begins to shimmer and vibrate.

47. As we get even closer, what will we see?

From even closer the line breaks up into individual ants, and we see that our notion of a line was just an illusion. We now accurately perceive the line of ants as one ant after another ant after another ant.

48. What is “insight”?

"Insight" is a mental factor. When we look accurately, for example, at the lifting process from beginning to end, the mental factor or quality of consciousness called "insight" comes nearer to the object of observation. The nearer insight comes, the clearer the true nature of the lifting process can be seen.

49. What is the progress of insight?

It is an amazing fact about the human mind that when insight arises and deepens through vipassana, or “insight meditation practice,” particular aspects of the truth about existence tend to be revealed in a definite order. This order is known as the progress of insight.

50. What is the first insight that meditators commonly experience?

Meditators comprehend, not intellectually or by reasoning but quite intuitively, that a process such as lifting is composed of distinct mental and material phenomena occurring together, as a pair. The physical sensations, which are material, are linked with, but different from, the awareness, which is mental.

51. What is the second insight in the classical progress of insight?

We begin to see a whole succession of mental events and physical sensations, and to appreciate the conditionality that relates mind and matter. We see with the greatest freshness and immediacy that mind causes matter, as when our intention to lift the foot initiates the physical sensations of movement, and we see that matter causes mind, as when a physical sensation of strong heat generates a wish to move our walking meditation into a shady spot. The insight into cause and effect can take a great variety of forms. When it arises, though, our life seems far more simple to us than ever before. Our life is no more than a chain of mental and physical causes and effects. This is the second insight in the classical progress of insight.

52. What is the next level of insight?

As we develop concentration, we see even more deeply that these phenomena of the lifting process are impermanent and impersonal, appearing and disappearing one by one at fantastic speed. This is the next level of insight, the next aspect of existence that concentrated awareness becomes capable of seeing directly. There is no one behind what is happening; the phenomena arise and pass away as an empty process, according to the law of cause and effect. This illusion of movement and solidity is like a movie. To ordinary perception it seems full of characters and objects, all the semblances of a world. But if we slow the movie down we will see that it is actually composed of separate, static frames of film.