“The deep voice of S.N Goenka booms through the recorder as he narrates the story of Pattachara , a wealthy woman in the ancient city of Rajgir- shocked upon the death of her two sons & husband in an epidemic, ran half-clothed on the streets and happened to enter Buddha’s ongoing sermon in the outskirts. Her eyes met that of the enlightened one and upon his tranquil gaze- started weeping, regaining senses. She was wrapped in warm Patta (cloth) quickly by other disciples and given the teaching of vipassana to emerge out of her suffering…as this story was told, I looked around and saw a course participant beside me, her cheeks gleaming with tears upon listening to the story of Pattachara. She had lost her only child in the ongoing pandemic and had decided to join the vipassana retreat to help deal with bereavement. “
India is a land of experiments since ancient times, scientific and spiritual alike. Perhaps that is why we see about 2500 years ago, Gautama the Buddha attained self-realization on one of his spiritual experiments by involving his breathing, observing a simple natural breath for days and months to realize the truth about himself. His experiment fructified into a meditation technique called ‘Vipassana’ which meant “To see things as they really are.” During his lifetime, Buddha taught this technique to his disciples and masses, and owing to its tremendous positive impact on people and society at large, Buddhas Dhamma spread like wildfire from Northern India to its neighboring kingdoms in South-East Asia.
Interestingly, Vipassana was lost in India for centuries post the decline of Buddhism until S.N Goenka, a Burmese-born Indian Expat happened to meet Syagyi Uba Khin, the first Accountant-General of Burma and a traditional Vipassana teacher, who had preserved this technique in its purest form for years by passing it on to his students. S.N Goenka became a dedicated student of Uba Khin and after practicing for fourteen years, brought the lost technique back to India.
The day started with a gong at 4 a.m. and we were expected to be in the meditation hall by the next twenty minutes. It seemed like a challenge as we assembled in the Pagoda at the break of dawn. The noble silence had already begun and the participants were instructed to choose a comfortable sitting posture to help them meditate for thirteen hours a day. The first two days were increasingly difficult, especially for the first-timers as one had to do nothing but simply observe a simple natural breathing sensation, technically called the “Ana Pana Sati “. No talking, no gadgets, no reading or writing or any form of expression. What made it more challenging was the participants were limited to only two meals a day, breakfast at 6.30 a.m. and lunch at 11 a.m. A glass of lemonade at 5 p.m. was the last refreshment.
India, being the birthplace of Gautama the Buddha we see an increasing number of tourist footfall each year on Buddhism Tourist Circuits. While the tourists visit places of importance and monasteries a real experience in terms of understanding the religious philosophy and practical application of the same in day-to-day life is missing. A vipassana retreat in India coupled with a visit to places of Buddhist importance will not only bridge the missing link but also enhance the tourist experience manifold.
Why should you take up a Vipassana Meditation Retreat In India?
- Vipassana courses range from 3 days to 45 days, and come at no charges.
- One is completely cut off from the world and gets time for introspection.
- Vipassana Meditation is known for benefits like Mindfulness, Psycho-somatic disorder management, Increased happiness, Improved relationships and stress- management.
- One follows the five precepts of Buddhism and learns to co-exist harmoniously.
- Living like an ascetic, one slowly embraces minimalism and gets rid of existing vices.
- The ultimate goal of Vipassana is liberation- freedom from the cycle of birth and death and spiritual seekers can advance their practice with the help of this meditation technique.
- India has a legacy of spiritual luminaries. As a result, authentic spiritual practices are still preserved.
The third day was a test for most of us. We had not seen the light of the day for the past 48 hours. We were observing silence and disciplining the mind with Ana-Pana Meditation. Limbs felt heavier. The tight schedule and reduced sleep had all of us silently groaning. On the fourth day, after the actual Vipassana meditation was taught, the participants started trusting the process. We were allotted a “Shunyagaar’- the cell for private meditation.
Although having practiced meditation before, I realized my senses had become sharper and the mind immersed in an absolute state of calm. After a thorough inward examination, by the sixth day, I was able to observe my tendencies, cravings, and responses to the incidents of the outer world, at work, and in life. I realized; how would one be able to understand anyone around them unless one had completely understood one’s own nature?
What to expect in a Vipassana Retreat?
- A ten days accommodation in the outskirts of major Indian cities in a lush green facility spread in acres.
- Well- kept private rooms with basic facilities.
- Thirteen hours of daily meditation
- Home standard food prepared with care
- Absolute quiet and personal space
Each day, all the sixty participants waited for their favorite part of the day. The evening pre-recorded discourse by teacher S.N Goenka was played for us in the large meditation hall.
Life stories of Buddha and those of Burma were a treat to the ears. His kind words helped the participants introspect and bring about a real and long-lasting change in themselves. We were able to witness the practical application of philosophy discussed thousands of years ago and learn the art to live and love life.
The spread of Vipassana in India is largely credited to S.N Goenka as he made this technique available to all the residents of the country by dedicating his life to helping people derive the most benefit from these ten days courses. Born in an aristocratic family, Acharya Goenka decided to give up the luxuries of a businessman and dedicated his time to further the teachings of Buddha’s Dhamma. He started hundreds of Vipassana Meditation camps on a donation basis with the belief that pristine knowledge, the valuable technique to attain liberation should not be charged. In the Vipassana center outskirts of Pune, I saw people from all walks of life, all religions, different countries, and strata of the society take up this course and practice universal brotherhood. What powerful meditation Vipassana must be, to unite such a diverse group.
How to book a Vipassana Retreat in India?
Book a Vipassana Retreat today. Visit https://www.dhamma.org/ and find your nearest course. All centers are easily accessible. Do remember there are no charges, just the investment of your time. Also, you can keep practicing any religion that you do, as vipassana does not impose any religious binding.
When asked to speak on the last day, I smiled as I tried to utter a sentence. The noble silence had ended and we were now free to talk amongst each other. All faces lit up and kind words were spoken. We were treated to a sumptuous meal and sweetmeats to celebrate our efforts & determination. Upon the exchange of pleasantries, we were handed over our valuables and cellphones. It was time to get back to the world.
I placed the greatest learning from Vipassana in my heart as I stepped out of the premises. If one wishes to bring about a positive change in one’s life, it begins from understanding the self.
P.S – The meditative environment of the ashram was so peaceful- even the guard dogs didn’t care to bark!