The gift of Vipassana

By Ayesha Chopra

May 2014

What the enlightened preach, Vipassana helps us experience, by giving us a technique to remain aware, without attachment to the pleasant, or aversion toward the unpleasant, says Ayesha Chopra

why vipasana

One day during his recent visit, my son Sameer said, “Ma, J. Krishnamurti used to say that meditation is an ongoing moment to moment thing. That there was no need to formally sit down to meditate in a special posture at a set time and place. And Mooji says that there is no need for deliberate, strained observation; that observation and witnessing happen spontaneously all the time.”

“Yes, that’s right,” I nodded.

“So why practice Vipassana?,” he asked.

Sameer is a product of Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh, run by the J. Krishnamurti Foundation India. Spiritual curiosity first sprouted in him when he was still in school but grew strong about seven years ago after he attended a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. The spiritual master who appeals to him the most these days is Anthony Paul Moo-Young, affectionately addressed by all as ‘Mooji’.

My interest in spirituality had sparked in my 20s, when I read J Krishnamurti’s Commentaries on Living. For years I absorbed every word written by him sponge-like. Over the years that spark turned into a flame that continues to burn bright, and now consumes a major part of my attention and time.

Discovering Vipassana

When Vipassana happened to me around the turn of the century, my excitement knew no bounds. I felt I had come full circle in my spiritual explorations. I was discovering experientially in Vipassana what I had understood merely intellectually from J. Krishnamurti’s teachings and philosophy.

Now, reflecting on Sameer’s question, ‘Why Vipassana?’ a number of thoughts flash through my mind.

When spiritually evolved people such as J Krishnamurti or Mooji, glimpse the ultimate truth, they are naturally driven to share their knowledge with others. It becomes their single-pointed purpose in life to awaken people to the truth about existence. The manner in which they express it reflects their own experience and the way they themselves realised it, which is often different for each.

When JK asked us to ‘be choicelessly aware’ of ‘what is’ from moment to moment… “to see the false as the false and the true in the false” he didn’t specify how to do that. He ruled out all formal and informal techniques, emphasising that the truth was ‘right here, right now’ and all we had to do was to ‘be choicelessly aware’ of it all the time. When Mooji says, “everything passes like clouds in the sky” and tells us to “just be; do nothing; simply look without identifying yourself with anything” he doesn’t explain exactly how to do that.

Seeing and staying with the Truth comes easily and naturally to the enlightened, but ordinary people need a method – a technique – at least in the initial stages that helps us to remain aware without attachment to the pleasant, or aversion toward the unpleasant. Vipassana offers that method.

Legend has it that upon returning home after attaining enlightenment, the Buddha told his wife Yashodhara that the Truth is right here within us at all times; that one need not go anywhere in search of it.

“So why did you go to the forest for so many years leaving us behind?” she asked, and he said, “Because I didn’t know this fact at that time.” He had to be enlightened before he could realise that fact.

Similarly, for as long as we stay ignorant and unenlightened, and before we can be choicelessly aware of ‘what is’ from moment to moment, we need to know how to observe the constantly changing phenomena while remaining aware and detached at the same time.

Moreover, Vipassana’s goal is not to just get a glimpse of the ultimate reality beyond the illusory cosmic phenomena. As late Shri S N Goenka – the highly respected modern-day teacher and propagator of Vipassana – explained, Vipassana’s ultimate objective is nibbana or moksha –total liberation from the cycle of birth and death. And that is attained only after the individual mind has been cleansed of all karmic accumulations. Purification of the mind by eradicating sankharas is one of the natural results of practising Vipassana meditation.

The divine spark of truth within us is hidden under layers upon layers of sankharas that must be worked through in each lifetime. As long as the seed of a sankhara remains in the mind, even the most evolved must be reborn to resolve and dissolve it before full liberation is attained.

Personal experience

People do not usually pursue something unless it benefits them in some way and Vipassana is a treasure trove for the sincere meditator.

I hasten to underscore that every person’s experience with Vipassana is different. The changes that I have witnessed in myself since I began practicing Vipassana meditation 13 years ago may well be experienced by another person much earlier or much later. It is also possible that someone else may experience something totally different. There is no hard and fast rule governing individual experience except of discovering the deeper facets of reality, which is the same for all, but discovered at each meditator’s own time and pace.

Vipassana meditators are therefore advised not to compare their own experience with others. But sharing an experience often helps to better understand the multifaceted technique and to strengthen one’s daily practice. It is in that spirit that I now share some of mine.

My first 10-day Vipassana course aroused a sense of wonder which still fills me every time I uncover something new during a meditation sitting. When I directly observe the constantly vibrating and changing energy within, notice the impermanent nature of all causative phenomena, and witness the ‘solidity’ of my body dissolve, I am not only amazed and awed but also feel an inexplicable sense of deep tranquility, and can’t help looking forward to the next sitting!

As Vipassana quickly became an integral part of my daily routine, my view of life gradually began to change. What I had understood at the mere intellectual level before Vipassana, now became a ‘knowing’ through direct observation at the cellular level. I began to clearly understand the interconnection between the body and the mind. I could see how the ego and the illusion of ‘I’ and ‘me’ get set and sustained by our thoughts and actions. That the ever-flowing and ever-changing life-energy is a totally impersonal phenomenon and the entity referred to as ‘I’ is merely one of its many manifestations – transient and substance-less with no reality of its own.

Once that critical insight was gained the process of ‘letting go’ set in. I am gradually beginning to recognise the futility of harbouring the sense of ‘my’ and ‘mine’ not only with regard to people and things but also with respect of thoughts, beliefs and ideas. I no longer grieve, resist or struggle when good times pass, people move away, unwanted things happen and wanted things don’t. Having observed and understood the natural law of impermanence, it just doesn’t make sense to struggle against the unavoidable!

But understanding and surrendering to the law of nature is the relatively easy part. The harder part has been to acknowledge and embrace the ‘dark’ side of consciousness which the relentless piercing beam of Vipassana inevitably dredges up from ‘the shadow’– the part in our subconscious where we push everything that we don’t like to see or accept about ourselves.

It is said that the hardest and the toughest discoveries are those that lead us to higher and more sublime states – and I now have every reason to believe that!

When the regular practice of Vipassana began to penetrate the barrier between my conscious and the subconscious mind, some of what surfaced was not what I wanted to see. Deeply submerged fears and insecurities, inadequacies and naivete, were starkly uncovered and brought forth into the uncompromising light of pure awareness.

At first I struggled, and didn’t want to acknowledge that part. But the truth, once revealed, cannot be shunned for long. One day, during a long sitting, some of the unpleasant and painful memories of past mistakes crept out of obscurity, claiming attention. Tears started to flow, and I sobbed my heart out as overwhelming feelings of shame, disillusionment and disappointment consumed me. I was supposed to be fairly intelligent! How could I have been so stupid and made those mistakes – the judgmental part in me chided! Our subconscious is indeed very kind to absorb the painful memories, making us forget them, so that we may comfortably go about our daily business. But now my painful truth was staring me in the face, and I could no longer ignore it.

Then, just as suddenly as they had started the tears stopped flowing, the sobs subsided and the painful feelings passed. A comforting calmness miraculously enveloped me. I felt safe in the stillness that followed to look squarely at my imperfect self with no attempts to reject or rationalise it. Finally, slowly and lovingly, I embraced it all – the good, the bad and the indifferent.

For days thereafter I was like a placid lake, very quiet and still, letting the subtle changes that were happening within me happen. The image of myself that I had carried and believed in, began to crumble as I gradually came to terms with the ‘new’ me that was not ashamed to be less-than-perfect. Perhaps for the first time I understood what ‘unconditional acceptance’ really meant. I could look directly at my faults and imperfections, and allow the painful feelings associated with them to arise and naturally pass away.

Two significant things happened as a result of this deep cleansing. One was, having unconditionally accepted my imperfect self, I ceased to be concerned with what anyone else thought of me. After all, it was only a game of mental images, and I had seen the falsehood of relating not to people as they are but to the images that we ourselves construct, destroy and reconstruct in our own mind.

The other is, that accepting my own faults and imperfections has helped me to accept the faults and imperfections of others more readily. It is now easier to look beyond someone’s hurtful words and actions, and understand the underlying pain which causes them to say and do those things. It is uplifting to see how genuinely understanding people’s vulnerabilities can turn anger into compassion, criticism into tolerance, and desire for revenge into feelings of kindness and forgiveness. That’s when metta begins to take on a different meaning for me.

Metta (loving kindness or friendliness)

One of the most rewarding parts of Vipassana is the ending of each sitting with ‘metta bhavana’ or the meditation of loving kindness and friendliness. Metta involves generating the vibrations of love, compassion, kindness and forgiveness within which are then radiated outward into the universe.

It stands to reason that we cannot give to others what we don’t have in us to give. How can we love others when we don’t truly love ourselves? How can we be kind to others when we lack kindness for ourselves? In order for      us to radiate the positive energy of loving kindness, it must first be available within.

The practice of metta works like a cycle: the more positive energy we generate, the more we have to give out; the more we give out the more pours in. The beauty is that we inevitably become the first beneficiaries of the feelings we generate within us even as we project them outward on to others.

Whichever way I look at it, the benefits of Vipassana are unmistakable. Having ‘tasted’ it I would not trade it for anything in the world. I feel fortunate and blessed to have received this treasured gem from Goenkaji directly during his lifetime. Goenkaji’s words resound in my ears as I find myself thinking, ‘May all who come in its fold find real peace, real happiness.’

 

Bio: Ayesha Chopra is essentially a seeker and a personal life-skill coach based in New York

13 Comments

  1. saraswathi100@yahoo.com'

    I have not done a vipassana course but I did a similar one called ‘Samyama’which was also intense and powerful enabling us to be totally present.The basic lesson to be learnt here is that as humans we have to rise above the material and find the true purpose of our existence. Away from the noise of the world, with thoughts for company we come face to face with ourselves and that is an experience each person should undergo.

    Reply
  2. rsnehil@yahoo.com'

    Savita mam i would like to knowore about meditatoonthanks.

    Reply
  3. arhantvipassi@gmail.com'

    Ms. Ayesha Chopra has written a beautiful article, which helps beginners in Vipassana practice. I’ve also been practising this technique since 2010, but some of the things she has written have really clarified my doubts. Most of the techniques these days help to improve your concentration power, or even result in a level of tranquility of mind, but the most important part is often ignored, that is the inner cleansing at the deeper levels of mind, which is what Vipassana does. Pl. my sincere thanks to the author for this wonderful article. Ashok Mehta.

    Reply
  4. soiltosoil@gmail.com'

    Respectable Madam,

    The foremost and utmost important question in this process of inquiry is that, what are we searching for and what for we are searching? If we don’t have a definition and description about the GOAL we are groping in the dark for an abstract purpose and goal.

    When I started the search, when I was in Mumbai in the eighties, there were so many school of thoughts helping you to get a glimpse of the state of bliss through various methods. It was when I listened to Swami Dayanand ji I realised one thing that it is your EMOTIONAL MATURITY that is what it counts for a peaceful co-existence in this world.

    After so many years of experience in and through the transactions and transformations of life and regularly writing in the Speaking Tree columns I have come to certain conclusions based on the observable facts of this life.

    1. THE UNIVERSE IS AN EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS WITH PURPOSE IN A BASIC STATE OF EXISTENCE IN AND THROUGH A PAIR OF OPPOSITES WITHIN A NATURAL LAW OF TRANSACTION AND TRANSFORMATION FROM A ROUGH AND TOUGH TRANSACTION TO A SMOOTH AND SOFT TRANSACTION LEADING TO THE BASIC STATE OF SILENCE.

    2. All the phenomenon as appearances are only expressions of the basic state itself, in itself, for itself. They have no independent or individual substantiality, identity or existence other than the basic state. When a phenomenon is reduced to its fundamental essence, there’s only the basic state and nothing else. As long as we don’t see that everything rests within a basic state, we can never go beyond our self-limiting ideas about who we are and what for we are here in this world.

    3 IT IS PERTINENT TO NOTE HERE THAT, ALL THE CONCEPTS AND CONCLUSIONS ARE NOT DEVELOPED BY HUMAN SPECIES, BUT DEVELOPED BY THE “PROCESS WITH PURPOSE”, THAT IS THE PROCESS OF EVOLUTION IN AND THROUGH A HUMAN LIFE FORM.

    4 Religion: A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.

    {“ALL RELIGIOUS OR INDIVIDUAL ATTEMPTS TO PROVE SUPREMACY OVER OTHERS IS AN ACT OF SEPARATION FROM THE WHOLE AND IS A DENIAL OF THE ONENESS OF THE CREATION AND IT IS A HUMAN NATURE TO PROVE ITS SUPREMACY OVER OTHERS”} Vasudev Nair

    When we understand the purpose of an individual human life is not to attain a state or condition to be achieved by an effort, but consciously participating in the “PROCESS with PURPOSE” that is, CAUSE & EFFECT, with the privilege to CHOOSE the PURPOSE, which influences the PROCESS for evolution, there remains no goal to be achieved, but a relentless participation in the process with purpose is the only possibility.

    DESTINY IS, ASSUMPTIONS AND PRESUMPTIONS OF AN UNKNOWN, BORN OUT OF THE FEAR OF THE UNKNWON, THAT IS THE SUCCESS OR FAILURE OF THE GAME OF THE INDIVIDUAL CRAD HOLDER. THE INDIVIDUAL CRAD HOLDER HAS NO CHOICE BUT TO PLAY THE GAME.

    THE FREE WILL, THE PRIVILEGE OF A HUMAN BEING, IS TO CHOOSE THE PURPOSE OF THE GAME THAT IS EITHER THE CONSIDERATION OF AN INDIVIDUAL WIN OR LOSS WHICH IS AN UNCONSCIOUS PARTICIPATION, OR A CONSCIOUS PARTICIPATION AS AN INDIVIDUAL PLAYER IN THE SCHEME OF THE GAME TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE SMOOTH FLOW OF THE GAME WHICH HAS NO END.

    These concepts, theories or postulations are developed through me for presentation in words and an effort of this individuality to consciously participate in the creative process of evolution.

    With thanks and regards
    Vasudev Nair

    Reply
  5. shreemarco@yahoo.com'

    The article is interesting and fully supportive of what Lord Shrikrishna has spoken more than
    5000 years ago. The objective as written: “Nivanna, Moksha, liberation from the cycle of birth
    and death, purification of mind by eradicating sanskar.” This is precisely what Gita broadcasts.
    To realise these objectives Vipasana system is one of the many forma of meditations: Rajyoga,
    Kriya-Yoga, Sudarshan-Kriya and many more. All of them have evolved from the central theme
    of Gita as experienced by personalities and giving different names and illustrations there of.
    If one looks in every system one finds the common denominator being experience with the truth.
    Under the light of the truth one gets the art of discrimination and calmness.
    When I sit before my Guru in Himalaya, without any effort mind goes in meditation completely
    or vaguely aware of the presence of our body-mind complex. He says and perhaps many system
    says that this realisation is limited. The perception that : ” Entity referred to as “I” has no reality
    of it’s own”. If it has no reality of it’s own the who ” Allows the process of letting go set in”?
    ” but understanding and surrendering ro the laws of nature is relatively easy part, the harder
    part has been to embrace the———-”. Who embraces? In short we have to accept the Bhakti
    part as an inseparable as outlined in Gita. We are spark from the complete called Krishna or
    whatever name you give. “I” can not be dissolved in any kind of enlightenment but can be
    dovetailed in the service of Krishna thereby becoming HIS servant of the serrvant and perhaps
    the outcome of meditation will be ripe and mature with guaranteed Moksha or liberation to
    “I”. Lifelong the complete subordination to the wishes of Krishna has to be maintained. Once
    we keep Krishna in the centre we can draw numerous concentric circle of realisations, enlightenment
    and joyfulness while working and accepting the realities of World. The net advantage is we live joyfully
    without worldliness. Either you live in presence, or observe your natural flow of breath non judgementally,
    or do an intense breathing experiencing it go through your plexus or fix your attention in between
    your eyebrows, or chant OM, all the processes are to calm the mind and enjoy the beauty and
    glory of Krishna surrendering fully at HIS lotus feet. In this way you will not be able to accumulate
    any Sanskar further and also dissolve your previous Sanskar under the piercing rays of Gyana
    and stabilising forces of Bhakti. Finally on leaving this body this “I” will go directly to the Kingdom
    ofKrishna called GOLOK DHAM, for which Krishna has given ample descriptions in GITA.

    Reply
    • soiltosoil@gmail.com'

      Respectable Sir,

      A fundamental question: Is there a definition of ORIGIN & PURPOSE of CREATION in any scriptures? IS it a one stroke creation or a process of evolution? Any conclusive answers to these questions?

      Please enlighten me as am ignorant of these answers to the questions.

      Thanks and regards
      Vasudev Nair

      Reply
  6. viper.78912@gmail.com'

    Breath is the psychic umbilical cord that binds us to our Creator.
    We were created before the world began (Ephesians1:4). If we choose to be bound by traditional beliefs, we will be unable to discover our inner beauty & spirituality. The greatest journey is the journey inside us where God Resides in our hearts. The mind is everything. What we think we become. Focusing on the perfect peace of Christ, or an enjoyable project, can help us to access the Theta brainwave state, which is a level where we are most likely to receive creative inspirations and spiritual breakthroughs. The invisible things are clearly visible…There is no excuse. (Romans 1:20). –Prateep Philip

    Reply
  7. savita_01_03@yahoo.com'

    Dear Readers,

    If you would like to experience the benefits of Vipasana, please do try the one conducted by Sri Goenka. The main centre is based out of Igatpuri and they have branches all over the world.

    Ths Vipasana foundation initiated by Goenka ji is completely non-profit therefore the stay and all other expenses are taken care of.

    In case you would like more details, please let me know..Thanks, savita

    Reply
    • mustafadaudi@live.com'

      I would like to learn the Vipasana Technique. Please inform me nearest centre as i reside at Bilaspur Chhattisgarh.

      Reply
  8. relaxationmeditation@gmail.com'

    Ultimately such experiences, as exciting they are at first and first can be a really long time, are terribly frustrating in the end. The self is described in the Vedas as personal and individual, with the qualities of ” sat cit and Ananda ” Full of bliss, eternal and full of knowledge. That is the permanent unchanging nature of the individual self. Here the author has adopted the view that this reality is an illusion and he tries to accomplish enlightenment by denying the individual self. His attempts will be all in vain, because the Bhagavad Gita states that the self the Atma or soul, can never be destroyed cut into pieces, dried out by the wind,moistened by water, nothing at all can destroy the eternal soul. No weapon, no thought process, no meditation can achieve the annihilation of the self. Therefore the I will always be present, in the present. A person will always temporary experience an inquiry state of nothingness created by the mind, but he will always come back to the experience of I. His meditation week always fail because the Atma he himself is indestructible. The attempt to finish it, thinking that is the way to stop all suffering and karma, is a complete waste of time.

    Reply
  9. srinagesh.katuri@gmail.com'

    Heart warming and beautifully expressed. As a spiritual seeker and aspirant, I am at a stage looking for an understanding, a meaning and purpose for my life, and as a means to such an approach, have heard, and read about Vipassana and experiences of various. The Author was so very true when she said that everyone’s experience is different and not to be compared or bench marked, since each one of us must have to travel on this spiritual journey and road on our own individual strength and steam with commitment and dedication, to reach the final destination.
    I intend to register for the Vipassana course but am amazed at how difficult it is for a new comer to get a seat / register at any of the Vipassana Centers in the country, not because of any bureaucratic hassles,but being all filled up well in advance or open for only experienced Vipassana meditators. Would be grateful if Life Positive can please guide and help me in getting a slot at a Vipassana Center so can register immediate. Thank you for the help and a lovely sharing on Vipassana.

    Reply
  10. usgulati@gmail.com'

    Before reading the article, I thought the writer may be explaining the technique of vipassana in the article. But that is not there.

    Secondly, the article can be read by human only, neither animals, nor spirits. Then the need of asking for the calculation (i.e. 2×6= ?)?

    Reply
    • jamuna@lifepositive.net'

      Thanks for your views. The article is about the about the author’s experience with Vipassana – you could find more articles about the technique itself in our website. Re: calculation, this is to prevent spam..

      Reply

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