I have just returned from 10 days of Vipassana Meditation at the Southern California Vipassana Center in 29 Palms, California. I’ve never been a meditator but have read a great deal about meditation and really enjoy the writing of Echart Tolle. One of my friends is a Teaching Assistant for the Vipassana Centers throughout the world where Vipassana is taught by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. I have been friends with him and his partner for many years and we had talked about me attending a course but I never had. The last time I visited them we were talking about Vipassana and I popped up with..”I’ll go! (Please don’t misunderstand…there was never any kind of pressure for me to go, I just decided I wanted to go.)
I was under the impression that all Vipassana was taught by Goenka but this is not the case. The Goenka Centers are supported by donations, built with donations and staffed by volunteers. Pretty amazing and the most amazing thing is that it works and more and more centers are being constructed. This particular center in Southern California has a waiting list of a few months.
Let me tell you my story or at least a little of it and then tell you more about Vipassana Meditation. I really didn’t know if I could do this but there I was after a delicious dinner going to my first meditation. There really isn’t anything to do but meditate because reading and writing materials are not allowed and one just has oneself to deal with. Day One went smoothly although I hadn’t had any exercise in 4 days. There were some thoughts creeping in of, “Why in the world was I here but…” I found the women’s walking path and used that but not enough to change what happened the morning of Day 2. I woke up, went to breakfast, back to my room to brush my teeth and felt it happen. Sciatica grabbed my lower back and the pain started. I found my friend and although I wasn’t supposed to be talking I had to do something about my back. She found one of the servers, a lovely young actress from Hollywood and the server went to the Teaching Assistant. Those people called everywhere trying to find a chiropractor for me. One was located in Indio, CA. a two hour round trip. I was able to continue the course even though there were many times that I just wanted it to end. I’m very glad I stuck it out and am now an Old Student as opposed to a New Student.
There is a discourse every evening by Mr. Goenka and in one of these he tells his story. He was born in Burma where the Vipassana tradition was still pure. Goenka was a business man and a wealthy one. He developed migraine headaches that were horrible. He saw doctors from all over the world and could not get rid of the migranes. He had heard about a Center across the river and went to enroll. He was not accepted because this isn’t about curing migraines. He also had used morphine for 4-5 years to stop the pain. Later he returned to the Center and was accepted. His teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin eventually sent him to India to take back the pure form of the meditation. Goenka didn’t want to charge people to come to the courses and was told he was nuts. He stated that it would work as no one would be willing to work for 9 1/2 hours for a free meal. and, thus we have centers that do not charge. People give donations of what they can afford and also give service.
Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques that was 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 a process of self-purification by self-observation. 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. The entire path (the Dhamma) is a universal remedy for universal problems. It has nothing to do with any organized religion or sectarianism so can be practiced by anyone at any time and in any place without conflict due to race, community or religion.
Vipassana eliminates the three causes of all unhappiness: craving, aversion and ignorance. The practice must be continued in order to release the tensions developing in everyday life. It is a technique that will eradicate suffering, it is a method of mental purification which will allow one to face life’s tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way and it is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.
On Day 10 Noble Silence is broken and everyone may talk. There is a wonderful feeling of love and acceptance not to mention the fact that we all made it to Day 10. I certainly had my doubts that I would!