I am back.
I was away for 12 days, cut off from the outside world in a remote area of the Pahang tropics. There is a Vipassana meditation centre there, where I stayed to be trained in Vipassana, under Sayagyi U Bak Khin’s protege, S. N. Goenka. Every Vipassana centre is a holy sanctuary, visited by people all over the world and run by dedicated Dhamma servers. To attain peace of mind, there is only self-discipline and the experience of objectivity in the path I chose to walk. Just as the Spartans lived and breathed the art of warfare, so too did the Vipassana yogis who practice meditation in its purest form.
All meditators had to leave their egos at the door because the entire course was funded by the donations of older students before us, meals and accomodation included. We observed the Dhamma precepts of morality and noble silence. Our clothing had to be loose, completely covered. A lot of meditators wore shawls, long sleeves, yoga pants or peasant skirts. No physical contact with anyone. No talking, not even mumbling or singing to yourself. The only time we could speak was when we had questions to the teacher concerning our meditation. For 10 days I barely spoke 10 sentences. It was jarring to hear the sound of my voice when we could finally speak. I only ate 2 meals a day which comprised of fruit and simple vegetarian food. I lost 2 kg in the process. During meal times, all of us faced the walls and ate our food in silence. Our schedule was rigorous - we wake at 4am, and meditate for 10 hours in the meditation hall with a 1.5 hour Dhamma discourse at 7pm each day. Lights out at 9pm. Lather, rinse, repeat for 10 days.
I chose this path, remaining a Christian, because I wanted to find peace of mind. My ultimate goal in life, is and always will be, to die a beautiful death for God’s glory, without any sadness or misery. I am not asking for a miracle. I am willing to put in the work, and if the enlightened Buddha had found a way to do it without going against the principles of Christianity, I would give this technique a fair trial.
The first 3 days were agony for me. Meditation begins with self-awareness, and then penetrating into the deepest levels of the mind with a razor sharp edge. It was like having my head and heart cut open and probing through it without any anesthesia.
My mind, which was so used to being distracted by a 1,001 things back in civilization, became even more agitated at this sudden change in environment of … nothingness. There was silence all around me at all times. I was alone, truly and utterly alone with my mind that’s rapidly turning into a wild animal by the minute at the sudden lack of distraction to occupy itself. It almost drove me insane. All I was told to do was meditate for 10 hours a day and focus on anapama — the awareness of breath. I came here to train my mind, and now it seems like my fears were going to overwhelm me. Fear of the unknown, self-doubt, the Christian fear of being possessed when one’s mind goes blank… All hell began to literally break loose as horrible visions of the damned began to multiply and torment my mind. I could barely focus during the day because I was constantly being disturbed by jabbering voices in my head, or my mind was wandering to another planet or celestial plane altogether. Despite my wandering mind, I constantly refocused and pulled through meditation during the day.
At night, the nightmares came. I could barely manage 2-3 hours of sleep each time. Fear constantly kept me awake. I was not a happy camper at 4 am.
When I was meditating on the 3rd night and finally began to concentrate, I suddenly saw a white flash and a demonic face. I heard a voice snarl in my ear, full of evil:
WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?
I opened my eyes in shock to the dim, cool darkness of the silent meditation hall. That was the only physical sign I made to indicate my heart almost tore out of my chest. I vowed to observe noble silence so I did not utter a sound. I saw other meditators sitting in neat rows in front of me, as still as Buddha statutes.
The night continued with the same torment. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong, except I felt this irrational fear that I really was screwing up, this is not as it should be, this is why I am being punished…
In the darkness of the night, I prayed silently. “God, please let me stay. Please protect me. If not, I will leave.”
Out of nowhere, I felt a glow of warmth suffuse my body. It was calm, reassuring, and it went away as briefly as it came. I had my answer.
That night, I did not pack my bags and managed 2 hours of sleep before the gong sounded at 4 am for the next morning practice.
There are no rites or rituals in Vipassana. No verbalization of chants or mental visualization of gods or deities are allowed. Vipassana practitioners meditate with their eyes closed, in complete solitude and silence. This is to preserve the technique of Vipassana in its purest form, without taking anything anyway or adding anything new to corrupt the purity of the technique. By the 4th day, I eventually realized Vipassana was not some sort form of mysticism or mutually exclusive spirituality. Vipassana reveals reality as it is, not as how we perceive it to be. The truth of reality is the truth of impermanence — that change is constant, that all things of this world are temporal. This truth is a universal truth. Of course, it is so easy to accept this truth at an intellectual level. However, it is so much more difficult to apply this truth in our lives. We are so attached to this being of self — this ego of I, and what is mine — my things, my family, my career. Our cause of suffering stems from the attachment of our egos, our bodies, and what we lay claim around it. When we deconstruct the human being, or the universe for that matter, what are we really, but a mass of constantly vibrating subatomic particles fused together with a conscience: just a form of energy. In fact, this whole universe is made up of energy. We are just passing through this life in some form energy mass or the other. So why generate so much attachment to what is I, what is mine? We cannot take what we have into the afterlife, so why bother? And when change occurs, not according to how we have envisioned it, we get so upset, so angry, so depressed. For what purpose? To what end?
This is because we have yet to realize the truth of impermanence in our lives. The only way to get out of all suffering, all misery, is just to observe the changes within ourselves objectively without reacting blindly, like how we have conditioned our minds to do for so long. This is what Vipassana trains the mind to do. The technique is a practical, purposeful way to balance the mind in a rational, equanimous manner, to experience the truth of reality within the framework of one’s body, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant the sensation may be. For one cannot fully understand the truth unless it is experienced within one’s self. It is like akin to saying, yes, I know how to ride a bicycle in theory although I have never ridden once. I put my bum on the seat, my feet on both pedals, and exert force through each leg continuously, and this is where I activate the brake. But one will never know how to ride a 2 wheel bicycle unless one gets on a bike and rides it himself. Else, it’s just all intellectual games, grandiose verbosity.
Eventually, I began to see that it was my self-reality I was living out, my fears, my cravings, my aversions, my addictions to these feelings of craving and aversion. So much paranoia, so much angst and so much pain for nothing. I was suddenly overcome with a great sadness at how I had reacted in the past, over fear, over self doubt, over the imagined, over all the objects and feelings I was attached to, which held no meaning to me now.
It was during this realization that I shed my first tears of pure, deep sorrow in the deep, dark impenetrable silence.
By the 7th day, breakthrough.
My persistence paid off. I could finally focus my mind with ease. My mind was alert and fresh, even at 4 am in the morning, and I could understand things with greater rapidity and clarity. With greater understanding, my fears began to melt away. Now, I could sense my mind sharpening to the point I could feel the freeflow of energy from the top of my head to my feet, and up to my head again. The vibrations and energy flowed like quicksilver through my entire body. At some point, when the mind is razor sharp enough, it can penetrate the inner body and detect sensations, whether solidified or light vibrations. I admit out of curiosity I did indulge in some games of sensations during practice — having achieved freeflow of vibrating energy, then proceeded mentally piercing myself through my chest, my arms. At one sitting I had LMFAO’s Party Rock on loop in my head. Please note mind wandering is not the goal of Vipassana. The point to be illustrated is, the characteristic of each bodily sensation felt is the same, whether pleasant or unpleasant — it is impermanent in nature, forever arising, passing, arising, passing. This is the truth to be realized. When one realizes this truth, and does not react to any sensation, pleasant or unpleasant, one achieves perfect equanimty at that moment in time. Slowly, but surely, the mind will change its habit pattern — from being explosive and reactive to being calm, objective, equanimous. For 3 hours each day, we were told to practice addithana, that is to meditate perfectly still without any movement. No changing legs even though your body is screaming in pain. No opening of the eyes. Be perfectly still. In this way, you can be perfectly equanimous. It was torture at first, but I slowly got used to the discomfort and aches, and if I meditate properly I can even diminish the pain in my mind until it completely goes away.
The typical answer to happiness is to love yourself. How does one get to “love myself”? The saints have the answer: know thyself first. How does one know thyself? To know thyself is to observe thyself. And how do I observe my mental and physical structure? Vipassana is such a technique — that elevates the art of living to bring peace and happiness to one’s life and in turn peace and happiness in the lives of others. Yet at the same time this technique is practical and realistic. We are all growing old, decaying with each moment. The art of living in Vipassana perfects the art of dying, so when we leave this world, we leave without tears. Only peace, compassion. The best way to judge someone is by his action at the point of death. Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, was tortured to death, yet he had nothing but love and compassion for the very people that were crucifying him. He said, “Father, please forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” This is truly selfless, unconditional love. The kind of love humans can only aspire to.
At the end of the 10 days, I can now take the technique of Vipassana home with me, to be practiced and cultivated daily in my life. I left the meditation centre happy, peaceful, and with more friends. I could not ask for more and I am forever grateful for receiving this teaching of Dhamma and the technique of Vipassana. Please understand each meditator will always go through a different experience, hopefully not so harrowing as mine. I would recommend this course for anyone of any religion or faith — on the condition you must be willing to give this technique a fair trial. You can read more about Vipassana at www.dhamma.org and sign up for courses in Malaysia here: www.malaya.dhamma.org/
I wish all of you peace and happiness in your life.