I have hesitated a long time, the program just seemed to tough. Ten days of silence. And eleven hours of meditation every day. And no distractions allowed. No mobile, no book, no guitar, not even pen and paper are allowed. But the longer I stayed in India, the more confident I felt. And almost every European I met in India has completed one. And many without prior meditation practice. The feedback was always positive. And so I applied for a ten days Vipassana course in Dhamma Sota Dehli that started on the fourth or March.
The train from Bodhgaya to Dehli is six hours late and doesn’t arrive before noon. I don’t really mind, since the bus for the Vipassana Centre leaves at 3:00 pm from the terminus of the New Dehli metro. The metro is jam-packed but somehow I manage to squeeze myself and my luggage into the car.
Because it is to packed, an employee of the metro comes and pushes everyone further in and closes the door. Luckily it gets less crowded with every station and finally I even manage to find a seat.
After arriving at the station I still have time for good lunch, accompanied by loud dance music. In two days the Holi festival will start and I have a feeling that people in New Delhi know how to celebrate this kind of event.
At the bus-stop a mixed crowd gathers, from serious looking older Indians wearing a tie to hippie me. But most of the people at the bus-stop are Indian students, at least that’s my impression. As always in India, the bus is full, almost to the last seat. It takes us about an hour to reach Dhamma Sota.
As always in India, there is a lot of paper work to do before we are allowed to our rooms. We are asked at least three times if we will comply with the rules. And they are quite strict! Ten days of silence, no communication with the other participants, not verbally, not using gestures and not even by eye contact. We have to participate in every meditation, the first starting at 4:30 am the last ending at 9:00 pm. At least we have three long breaks, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Additionally we have to keep the five precepts, to abstain from killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and abusing intoxicants. Not that we even have to possibility do any of theses things during the Vipassana.
After the paperwork is finished, everyone gets a room. We have two hours of time to make ourselves comfortable. At eight o’clock we meet in dining hall where we receive first instructions. Focus on the sensations caused by breath in the area around and under the nose. Then they remind us again about the rules and the big silence begins.
I woke up by the sound of a bell ringing. My alarm hasn’t sounded. I quickly dress and hurry to the meditation hall. There I sit down and try to concentrate on my breath. That is quite difficult, I am still half asleep. Normal daytime thoughts interchange with strange dream thoughts. I curse myself. Why have I come here? The last 30 minutes Goenka sings something in Pali, that helps me staying awake. But still I am so relieved when I finally hear the gong sounding.
From 6:30 to 8:00 we have breakfast. Afterwards, meditation is easier. The next break is from eleven to 1 o’clock. Then again meditation until 17:00. Another break of one hour, followed by a dhamma talk by Goenka. In the video he says that day two and six are hardest. After the talk, I feel better. The last half hour of meditation passes quickly.
The first session is even tougher than it was on the first day. It is cold in New Delhi and I am dressed for south Indian sunshine. Coldness, tiredness and sitting motionless on a meditation cushion for two hours – a recipe for agony.
But the session after breakfast is surprisingly good, there are less and less thoughts arising, they are weaker and just appear in the background of my consciousness. It is interesting to observe what kind of thoughts are appearing, either words or images but almost no other sense data. Even so, I am still thinking about quitting. And in the evening I am relieved that I am finally back in my bed.
I have noticed that I can divide the session before breakfast into four milestones. At 5 o’clock a watch beeps, half an hour later all Muezzins in the area call for the first prayer and at 6 o’clock Mr. Goenka starts his Pali singsong. Somehow this makes things a lot easier.
I am thinking less and less about quitting and instead more and more: Oh, this is good, this guy should do it and that friend of mine would benefit, too. I have to tell them all about this wonderful Vipassana.
This evening, a new mediation technique is introduced. The actual Vipassana. We scan our body piece by piece and try to feel each part. While doing that we should always keep in mind that everything is impermanent. Feelings arise, stay a while and pass. Everything behaves that ways.
Holi has started. The whole day I hear bass and a kick drum and people cheering. It’s much warmer now and the sun is shining. I think about spring in Berlin and how much I would like to be outside, dancing.
But Holi, too has come and will stay for a while and it will pass away. Impermanence is an elemental part of Buddhist thought. Nothing has a solid core, everything is in constant change. Even our dreams, fulfilled or not, are subject to change and if we cling to them, they will be, too a source of suffering.
Goenka is constantly reminding us of “Anicca” – impermanence. Everything is characterized by impermanence. Keeping that thought in mind, we should always remain perfectly equanimous while the Vipassana meditation washes up moment after moment of our past.
Another level of difficulty is introduced. Adhitthana Sessions. Sitting one hour without any movement whatsoever. If I can manage that or not depends almost entirely on my posture in the beginning. If my legs go dead early on I’ll have to move them sometime. But if that isn’t the case I can manage with only straightening my back now and then.
From now on there are three Adhitthana Sessions per day. Three hours of suffering but they allows us to experience the impermanence of suffering on a physical level. During meditation, small snippets of memory are washed up constantly to the surface of my consciousness. Happy moments, sad moments but also a lot of memories that are not connected to strong emotions.
We are to keep perfectly equanimous while mediating, not reacting to either mental or physical pain. This is supposed to break up behaviour patterns that cause suffering on their very roots.
Goenka explains it like this: Everytime we perceive, recognize and evaluate something, a reaction follows. This reactions leaves a trace in our Consciousness, a Sankhara. The Sankharas are fixed behaviour and thought patterns that are caused my defining moments. On this part knowledge of Buddhist knowledge precedes that of modern psychology.
Vipassana meditation will loosen the connection between experience and reaction. During meditation one lives once again through old, defining or traumatic situations. But this time in perfect equanimity! This way the emotions which are connected to these situations will weaken which in turn will weaken the resulting behaviour and thought patterns.
The pulsing sensation that arises while scanning the body is part of that process. The pulsing is a part of the subtle sensations of the body in contrast to solidified sensations like pain or pressure. Every time you succeed to change a part of your body with solidified sensations into a part with subtle sensations a painful Sankhara is removed. At least that’s what Mr. Goenka is suggesting.
For me this is the last day of the middle part, the end is closing in. Constantly, I am thinking how good the Vipassana is doing me but still I fell relieved that the course is finished on Sunday. I feel a great need to move myself and so I start doing Push-Up and Sit-Ups in my room.
From now on, we are supposed to send the attention through both sides of our body at once. That works quite on well with my arms and body but not at all with my legs. In the evening there is a surprise. Only two days of serious mediation are left. Silence is broken on the last day and we will only mediate for three hours.
The penultimate meditation day. I have almost done it. And meditating becomes easier day by day. After all, the day is structured, almost like in school. There a long breaks for lunch and breakfast and short breaks so we can stretch our legs a little. Then the Aditthana Sessions, medition in the cells and sessions were new explanations are given. This way it never really feels monotonous and although eleven hours of mediation might seem a lot, it doesn’t feel that way.
In the evening, for some reason my mood darkens. Maybe ten days have not been enough? But as usual the last mediation session improves my mood. I am looking forward towards the last day, promising my self to work again with full concentration.
The ninth day is impeded by extreme back pain. Maybe I’ve been training to hard in my room. I manage myself hardly through the Adhitthana session. But suddenly, in the evening I can dissolve the pain. And it really happens the way Goenka described it. The solid pain dissolves into a prickling heat sensation. It almost feel like someone put a hot-water bottle over the aching spot.
But I only succeed on my left side and after five minutes the pain comes back. But with increasing practice this technique is supposed to get easier and easier until it is finally possible to dissolve every kind of pain.
Additionally I am now capable of sending the attention like a ring over my body. It feels a bit as a very light, viscous fluid would be poured over my head, flowing slowly down on my body and leaving a subtle, pulsing sensation behind.
A pleasant sensation that will increase with continuous practice. At some point it is supposed to be possible to feel that sensation on and in our whole body. In the evening, Goenka reminds us not get attached to that sensation but to keep perfect equanimity. Only this way pleasant Sankharas will be extinguished, too.
Once again getting up early for mediation from 4:30 to 6:30, followed by breakfast. But then we have only another hour of meditation, after which we learn a new mediation technique, loving kindness or metta.
With loving kindness we send the good vibrations that our Vipassana meditation created all over the world, sharing it with all sentient beings. But we do that only for about ten minutes.
Then the big silence is over. We are back on the way to our daily life. Now I am again a European surrounded by Indians. I have to answer the same four questions all over again. Everyone wants to know where I am from, what my name is and about my profession. And because we’re in India they also want to know if I am married. Right now, I would prefer to speak to some people I know and I would love to play guitar, somewhere quietly.
In the Dhamma Talk of the evening Goenka explains how our practice should continue further. One hour of meditation in the morning, one hour of mediation in the evening. That is probably a good recommendation. In the last months, I have experienced myself the advantages of regular mediation.
It is one of the biggest weaknesses of Vipassana courses that everyone comes back excited but almost no one is able or willing to continue the practice in their daily life.
One last time getting up at 4:30. Today there is no meditation but an extra Dhamma Talk. Mr Goenka asks for Volunteers that may help organizing a course.
I can imagine myself helping during a course, there are still at least three hours of time to meditate and little bit of work and movement, especially with the right motivation may even enforce the effects of the meditation. At least that was my experience in the Amma Ashram.
And finally, I have understood a bit better how the path to enlightenment works. By learning to not identify with your feelings thus not falling into the same automatisms over and over again it becomes easier and easier to live through each situation openly. And so even pain and exhaustion will become more and more bearable, something I could even experience myself, if only for a short moment.
I have to agree wholeheartedly with the people that return enthusiastic from a Vipassana course. I think everyone, attending a course with the right motivation will benefit enormously.
At 8:00 the same crowded bus that brought us to the Dhamma Sota centre brings us back to the New Delhi Metro. I am following a Russian who will show me a cheap hotel close to the main station.
The next day I will have to go to the Karmapa Institute, to attend the Karmapa Public Course. One week of lectures about Tibetan Buddhism. I am quite curious.
In the evening, I lie in bed and send the attention over all parts of my body – I can feel my heart beating. Every beat sends a shock wave up my veins which propagates in the body until it reaches my heart and feet. I can feel oesophagus down until it ends in the stomach, the windpipe I can feel even beneath the vocal chords …