Igatpuri

Responding to A Call to Wholeness with Attentive Awareness: an Homage to SN Goenka

I had the opportunity to sit in Vipassana meditation last month over Thanksgiving.  It had been three years since my last course which was during my pregnancy.  Motherhood has been an amazing challenge and finding ways to meditate throughout the day has been difficult, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to revitalize my practice again.

These are the notes I made in the clarity after 3 days of meditating 12 hours a day, observing my breath, observing my physical sensations and observing all the roiling thoughts in my mind that were taking my attention from the present moment.

You are lost in thought again: your thoughts, the thoughts of others, thoughts started in the distant past, thoughts unfinished.  Thoughts re-crafted over and over of what you might have done or what you didn’t do.  Thoughts of the future, the distant future, the immediate future, thoughts of a possible future if only you act now.  Thoughts of people, of circumstances of dreams and expectations.  Thoughts of passion, of regret, of emptiness, thoughts of what might have happened if only you had done or said something different than what  had happened.

These thoughts boil and churn, tumbling over one another again and again, perhaps with slight variations as you reinforce them with your creative mind.  If only, of only, of only…..

These thoughts grip your mind, freezing it in a static stasis of immobility.  If only, if only, if only.  But…but…but…

Resist the temptation to reinforce the past you are trying to correct, it is impossible.  Practice being aware of these thoughts without engaging them.  Observe how they rise.  Observe yourself engage them.  Observe how your physical structure reacts to this process.  And then observe yourself observing all this.

Be still.  Observe awhile and eventually you will see the spaces between thoughts.  Continue observing with attentive awareness and those spaces of clarity will expand.  As you observe, you will see how thoughts arise into the spaces and you will observe yourself engaging those thoughts for awhile before letting them go and watching them fade away.  Do not become elated at this fading away.  Do not expect the momentary peaceful clarity to last.  For, certainly, another thought will arise again.

We are not able to change our thinking by eliminating the thinking process.  We can learn to not react to thoughts and by not reacting to them.  It is inevitable that they will fade away as part of the nature of life which is always and unavoidably ever-changing.  The law of nature is that all is ever changing.

In the first hours of Noble Speech once silence has been broken this past vipassana course, something that always comes up is the question of how it is that we have all come to vipassana as students.  Despite the wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, it is always interesting to learn that we each came to vipassana in response to an inner call to wholeness.  My story is similar to many others:  A friend was talking about her experience at her first vipassana course.  Her description of the meditation schedule, though rigorous, struck me as exactly what I needed at the time.

My practice has waxed and waned of the subsequent 10 years through graduate school, business and child-rearing.  At times the discipline was strong and I was able to weather intense times of change with easy breaths.  At other times the responsibility to others overwhelmed me and I did not make time to practice and the challenges of life became intense struggles.  But always the same call to wholeness resounded and I returned to find the lessons of attentive awareness once again.

After this past course, I noticed the difference between myself as an older student and the expectations of the newer students that I once shared.  As an older student, now, I no longer expect to have a sudden change of life that will enable me to maintain this clarity.  I don’t expect that I will be able to instantly be able to fulfill the directive to meditate for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.  And I can accept that without judgement.  I will do what I can do with gratitude for the moments of clarity that come as life keeps changing, changing, changing, ever-changing.

Karah Pino in meditation

Karah Pino in meditation

Vipassana Courses are offered around the world through the teaching of SN Goenka who transcended life this past September.  His recorded lessons teaching the technique and offering guidance to meditation ring true to new students and old students, young and old of all backgrounds and cultures.  Vipassana Courses are offered freely and donation of funds, time or other service are accepted but not expected.  To learn more, visit www.dhamma.org may all beings be happy.

Teacher S.N. Goenka dies at age 90 ‘Vipassana was like coming home’

Wed Oct 02 2013 from the Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/-vipassana-was-like-coming-home-/1177158/0

S.N. Goenka brought this Buddhist tradition of ‘living wisdom’ back to the country of its birth.

On September 29, Vipassana acharya S.N. Goenkaji passed away. He died as he lived, aware and smiling. It is impossible for any student to express the sense of gratitude one feels towards their teacher. I wrote this as his funeral procession was taking place, spending this time practising Vipassana and co-ordinating some details for the Vipassana PR committee I’m on. I know he will approve.

At some point in all our lives, no matter how happy or sad, we come to a point where a vague dissatisfaction creeps in. It’s the “I’m missing something” feeling. This happened to me seven years ago and the funny thing is, I was so happy in my personal and professional life. But I still felt that I hadn’t done anything meaningful with my life or really helped anyone. I felt that I was missing the real meaning and purpose of my life.

To me, Vipassana was like coming home. Taught by Goenkaji in the tradition of his teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin in Burma, Vipassana meditation is a practice that can be traced back to the Buddha. Goenkaji learnt under his teacher for 14 years and then came to India in 1969 to conduct a Vipassana course in Mumbai for his ailing mother. Despite the fact that he knew barely 50 people in the country, hundreds of people started coming to him. Sayagyi U Ba Khin’s dream of re-establishing Vipassana in the country of its birth was thus realised.

In 1976, Goenkaji established the first permanent Vipassana centre in the country at Igatpuri, where I did my first course. Today, Vipassana is taught at more than 170 centres in over 90 countries around the world. More than 100,000 students learn Vipassana each year in 59 languages. Vipassana courses, which are free of cost, in keeping with Goenkaji’s wishes, are also held in schools and jails, temples and mosques. Everything is paid for by the dana (gift) from past students.

A prolific writer and poet, Goenkaji composed in English, Hindi and Rajasthani, and his works have been translated into many languages. He was invited to lecture at forums as diverse as the Dharma Drum Mountain Monastery in Taiwan, the World Economic Forum at Davos, the Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations in New York, and the Spirit in Business Congress in the Netherlands, to name a few.

Goenkaji emphasised that the Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma (Dharma in Pali) — the path of liberation — which is universal, non-sectarian and open to people of all faiths and beliefs. Indeed, his courses are filled with people from across countries and religions. I have sat in courses with ladies in burqas, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks and Israeli Jews. Vipassana is a scientific exploration of the mind and body. It is a kind of meditation that calms and purifies the mind, and is taught in a simple and clear manner that can be understood by all. Vipassana is the practical aspect of the Buddha’s eight-fold path of sila (morality), samadhi (concentration of the mind) and panna (wisdom).

In our 10-day courses, we start with a base of morality (sila) by taking eight vows: not to lie (this includes any kind of exaggeration or gossip), steal, kill, etc. The environment and the silence help us greatly to keep these percepts. We are then taught samadhi, the first step of Vipassana anapana meditation, which means to concentrate the mind by the observation of the breath. By observing the breath, we start observing our mind. On the fourth day, we are given the gift of Vipassana, which is panna (wisdom). There is a mystery around the actual practice of Vipassana that I would not like to reveal, it must be experienced for oneself. It is “living wisdom” born of one’s own experiences. I find it inspiring that these same words and practice were taught by the Buddha himself.

Vipassana has changed me fundamentally. It has helped to see things from a completely different viewpoint — that of others. It has helped to control my (horrible) temper. Above all, it has worked to help me understand the true purpose of life and the empowering idea that we are responsible for everything that happens to us. This gives us great comfort, joy and hope for the future.