On 1st August, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal enrolled into a Vipassana course for 10 days. There is an speculation about Kejiriwal’s trip to McLeodganj to the meditation center, called Dhamma Shikhara. The pressis trying to figure out the routine he is following. Vipassana is an organisation started by S.N. Goenka. The course is based on the ancient Meditation technique called Vipassana. While these techniques and practices come from the Theravadan sect of Buddhism, Goenka claims Vipassana to be a non-sectarian in character.
Before starting the meditation center S.N. Goenka was a wealthy businessman living in Burma. Suffering from a major case of vicious migraine that crippled the quality of his life, he was in a bad state. However, he found no relief from multiple trips to various countries in order to treat his ailment.
Then he met with Vipassana teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin. After training under him for 14 years, he was authorized to teach meditation by his master. So after Ba Khin’s death, Goenka moved to India and started the first Vipassana meditation center in Igatpuri, near Mumbai.
The organisation now stands with hundreds of centers across the world such as in India, North and South America, Europe, Australia, Middle East and Africa. Surprisingly, it does not rely on any external form of advertising or PR for its promotion. It is known solely on the word of mouth. Vipassana offers 10, 20, and 30 day courses. I enrolled in a 10 day course at Jaipur, Dhamma Thali. Before applying on the website, one has to go through a long list of rules and regulations.
The things that ring out on the first read are complete isolation one will have to face for ten days. Practitioners are to keep a ‘Maun Vrat’ for ten days. Bar from any kind of spoken or even gestural communication from anyone except from the teachers and assistants in the course. Enrollers are not supposed to bring with them any reading material, or music devices. In short, we were supposed to cut off from the outside world in every measure for ten days. Dinner was not going to be served in the course. Exercising or any form of Yoga or religious practices were also barred for the participants, in order for them to completely test the fruits of Vipassana in all its purity.
The prospect of such a course may seem terrifying to some. But for me it called for the peace and isolation one requires from the usual hullabaloo of life. And thus, I travelled to Jaipur and completed the registration. I set my belongings in the room that I was allotted, and got ready for a different experience. Here is an insight into what I faced at the Vipassana course. Also, what our beloved Chief Minister might have gone through too.
We were given a small card with our timings and schedule. We were supposed to wake up at 4 am, get fresh and start meditation at 4:30 till 6:30. After which we were supposed to have our breakfast. Since we weren’t allowed mobile phones during the course, all we had to our disposal was a wind up alarm clock.
To my dismay, my clock stopped working and I woke up late enough to miss my morning session plus breakfast, the first day. I wrote an application for a new alarm clock and it came on the second day. It was a vital necessity since it was hard to know the time in the morning or night. Even more so because of the almost eerie silence that pervaded the place constantly. Even the assistants talked in hushed whispers.
I was really excited because of my sweet assumption that my days would be full of relaxation with almost no work to be done. But guess what, I was totally wrong. A harrowing 9 hours of meditation (yes, harrowing) while sitting on the ground, that too in the winter of January. We were given certain rules to follow or “Sheels” such as not lying, cheating, stealing etc. that set the base for our meditation to follow. The meditation technique that preceded Vipassana was ‘Dhyana’. Here we were taught to concentrate upon the natural movement of our breath.
It sounds easy, but believe me it is not. The isolation was supposed to be enjoyable but it just turned out to be very maddening. The only interaction I had during my trip was with the peacocks and the squirrels, whom I fed food leftover from my tea break. The meditation techniques sounded simple, but only when I did it, did I realize how hard it is to focus the mind. It was extremely tiring physically as well as mentally.
At the end of each day, we were shown recorded discourses of S.N. Goenka. This was to provide us with some much needed theoretical knowledge upon what we were practicing. And yet, they emphasized on the importance of practical knowledge over useless discussions over hypothesis and theories.
Day 3 to 6
The basic meaning and technique of Vipassana was taught to us from the 3rd day. Slowly progressing in detail and work each day. Although, the staff at the beginning of the course, had already given us a fair warning about the course being as tough as major 10 day ‘operation’ done on the mind and body to rid it of its negativity.
However, the isolation and physical fatigue seemed to be taking a toll on me with each passing day. The time given to us for rest was too less, as most of it was spent on everyday activities like cleaning the room, bathing, washing clothes etc. I started taking a shawl with me to the group hall to tie it to my legs and back and get some much needed support for the work.
On the 6th day, I had a minor breakdown, where I requested the teacher for a personal meeting and begged to go back. She realized the problems I was facing being one of the youngest participants at 19. She gave me motivation to continue with the course as there were hardly many days left.
Day 6 to 10
The prospect of going home soon seemed to give me a boost. The little time I had to myself henceforth was sinfully spent day dreaming about the wonderful things at home. We were given our own cells for meditation which were really tiny squared rooms with an equally tiny window on the top.
This was one of the experiences that I would never forget. I really learnt to feel some real peace in that tiny space, which would have made me claustrophobic on a normal day.Some routine was established into my life at Dhamma Thali. I woke up, ate, meditated and slept. The isolation did not bother me a lot now that I knew that I would go home in a few days.
On the 7th day, I was summoned and asked not to feed the peacocks and squirrels, as that would also result in me forming an attachment to the animals. They were really strict.
Finally, our 9th day was officially the last day of our ‘Maun Vrat’. It was broken in the evening and everyone spent the rest of the night talking to the fellow people they had seen all this time. We got our phone backs the next morning and I called my mom and best friend, teary eyed, happy to hear their voices again.
I made friends from Japan, Saudi Arabia, Bihar, Jharkhand, Columbia as well as Canada. On the tenth day we were taught the final stage of meditation, which was called Metta. We were involved in developing genuine loving kindness for ourselves and the world around us.
Finally, as I took my bus back to Delhi, it felt weird to be back in such a ‘noisy’ world, and yet I felt peaceful inside. The course isn’t one for miraculous epiphanies and bouts of instantaneous peace. However, the start to a carefully and methodically built way to a better mind and heart. It was very difficult, and yet rewarding.
If meditation is your cup of tea, this is an experience one should not miss for sure.
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