It is an accepted fact that all religions preach us to be equanimous. We are expected not to jump in joy and not to sink in sorrow. We are supposed to be calm and composed in the ups and downs of life. We are advised not to crave for desirable objects and not to have aversion for things which we don’t like. We are instructed to do our duties with a sense of detachment along with a balanced mind irrespective of the external situation. Such instruction or advice of the scriptures is very logical and reasonable because it frees us from sorrow and also results into tangible improvement in quality and quantity of output. Thus it becomes a win-win solution for both, the individual as well as the world.
Question arises as to how to attain this equanimity.
Several techniques are given to achieve equanimity. However, almost all religions also caution that such equanimity is impossible as long as our heart/mind is not pure. Thus it is a thumb rule that impure mind cannot be equanimous. Thus, the question follows as to how to get rid of impurities of heart?
Several techniques are given to achieve this end too i.e. that of annihilation of impurities of heart. Bhagvad Gita primarily talks of Karma Yoga in this regard. The scheme is to make the heart pure by Karma Yoga and thereafter get Jnana by Jnana Yoga and in consequence thereof one becomes equanimous. The object of equanimity is a byproduct of Jnana but the prerequisite thereof , annihilation of impurities, is instructed to be achieved by Karma Yoga or Dhyana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga etc. Any suitable method can be taken depending on the inclination of the aspirant. Some methods are not only unsuitable but may prove to be dangerous for the spiritual evolution of ineligible aspirants. Therefore, one should carefully assess one’s own level of consciousness and choose the suitable method.
In line of this thought, a technique named विपस्सना is suggested by Buddhism. Its sole aim is to destroy all impurities of mind and make us situate in equanimity and thus be free from all sorrows. It is an absolutely physical technique and does not require any visualization or imagination. It is an ancient technique and is reputed as a great meditation technique among Buddhism followers.
The technique is as simple and as straightforward as it can be. It instructs us to concentrate our attention on parts of body in a sequential manner and observe the sensations arising therein. As of now, even though we have sensations on body (because our body is a living entity), we are not aware of them because our mind is engrossed somewhere else. Whenever you concentrate your attention, with a little bit of practice of say two to three days, you will start noticing sensations which are already naturally present on the body. You don’t have to imagine or construct sensations. You have to merely observe the sensations which are naturally present on the body. As you do so, you will feel a definite aspect of all sensations—they are temporary. They arise and pass away. And thus you will actually physically feel a law of nature—the law of impermanence. We know this even now, but only at an intellectual level. Doing this meditation regularly, you will come across two types of sensations—one, extremely pleasant subtle sensations and the other, painful gross sensations. You are supposed to merely see them and not to develop craving or aversion for them in light of their impermanence. The body throws, in course of time, unimaginable sensations, which may tempt you to play a game thereof by enjoying them. विपस्सना cautions you against that. As you mature in practise by remaining equanimous to both pleasant and unpleasant sensations, it is postulated that your impurities will slowly diminish. How? The basic reason for development of impurities is our being in the mode of enjoyment. As you remain equanimous, no new impurities are created and hence body throws old impurities in the form of sensations. As you again remain equanimous, the old stock keeps burning away and you get purer. Further, in day-to-day activities, any mental thought results into sensations. Since you are maturing in practise, you would learn physically to be alert and equanimous to sensations and thus the mental thoughts.
विपस्सना postulates that our craving and aversion are roots of sorrow by being the reasons of mental impurities. It states that all mental thoughts are inextricably linked to sensations. Come any impurity and your body will throw a particular sensation. Our not remaining equanimous is a result to the attachment to the sensations. A word of praise brings a particular type of sensations for which we have craving. A word of disgust brings another type of sensation, which we hate. If you remain aware, the chances of which increase if you practise विपस्सना), then you can easily be equanimous to sensations, as that is what you have been practising. And thus you will remain equanimous to mental agitation.
Basic idea behind विपस्सना states that it is difficult to remain equanimous to mental thoughts. Thus, its advice is to keep practising mechanically so as to remain aware and equanimous to bodily sensations. They will in turn serve the same purpose of remaining equanimous to mental thoughts. And this will result in freedom from sorrow by annihilation of mental impurities.
Thus, it is obvious that the technique is mechanical, physical, harmless and pure. It is reasonable to guess that it would be effective too.
This technique is taught in very systematic manner in ten-day course conducted by institutions founded by Shri S N Goenka. It needs to be admitted that the courses are indeed conducted in a very professional manner. The highlights are as follows:-
- It is a purely residential course and you will have to stay put there for ten days straight.
- It is absolutely free of charge and no charges are there for even food/accommodation. The idea is to keep it insulated from commercialism.
- You have to maintain noble silence for nine days wherein you are allowed to talk only in case of grave necessity and that too only either with teacher or the management. There should be no communicaiton of any type, by words, gestures etc, among the aspirants. You are supposed not to have even eye-contact with other students.
- You have to meditate daily for ten and half hours and attend lectures in the evening for one and half hours.
- There will be no dinner.
- You are supposed to keep at least one fourth of your stomach empty, at all times. The emptier, the better.
- The day starts at 4:30 AM and ends at 9:30 PM.
- After third day, you are expected not to change your posture during meditation. You are expected to keep your waist, back and neck straight. The maximum duration of a single sitting is two hours.
If you are serious and you complete the course with full sincerity, it is generally observed that a lot of improvement in personality results from attending this course. If nothing, still the will power is improved substantially.
Having said this, I must state that the knowledge base of Shri Goenka with respect to the spiritual theories as well as practices of other religions is very limited. And he makes the matters worse by his generalized statements. The daily lectures in the evening are monologues wherein you are bombarded with generalized statements, which are obviously erroneous, and you can’t open your mouth. So, you are forced to take that easy with a pich of salt and develop your level of tolerance. However, the portion of his discourse wherein he teaches विपस्सना are outstanding.
You may try this Vipassna retreat but be ready to a rigorous, arduous, serious work which can be completed successfully only with single minded devotion.
Statements by Osho against the founder, Shri S N Goenka (Both are dubious, but the technique seems to be pure)