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.