As I walk back home, suddenly the ground shakes up. The building in front of me collapses like a house of cards and everyone around me is running in chaos. Despite using all the force, I can barely walk. Scared, in tears, fighting my way out of stampede, I reach my home with a bleeding head. Startled, I see my neighbour’s house crashing. I also see my brother and father on the balcony asking me if I am fine. Soon before I could blink my eyes, my house collapses and all is lost in debris.
I wake up to this dream as one of the volunteers rings the morning bell. I’m breathing heavy, my eyes are moist, and I’m crying kneading the blanket thinking that was real. I get up, shine the torch on the ceiling and look around. All three people sharing this dark room with me are still sleeping, so I stay in bed, worried, in thoughts about what has happened to my family? I had forgotten to bring a watch or an alarm clock with me, so I don’t know what time it is. I’ve been following this process to check if it’s time to get up. If all are still in bed, I can catch some sleep for a few minutes more. If they are gone, then it’s a disaster. There’s a thin margin of error – but who sleeps in the night, anyway?
It’s 3.30 am of the 8th morning at Dhamma Shikhara Centre for Vipassana Meditation located in the lap of Himalayas in Dharamkot, 7000 feet high. Surrounded by snow-covered peaks and Pine trees, the place is still cold in the middle of June, hence getting out of bed is the biggest challenge of the day. Still, deep in thoughts of the collapsing house, I get up and head to take a bath before anyone else. Water and electricity is a rare resource here, so we’ve been using an open tap of cold water to take a shower unless someone wants to walk a few metres to fill the bucket with warm water from the next building in the campus, up the hill.
As I reach Dhamma Hall (or meditation hall) and sit in my spot, I try to calm myself down but to no avail. The last conversation I had with anyone was 9 days ago when I surrendered all that I had brought from my home – to the officials. This place has rules that one must diligently follow in order to stay here and reap the rewards of the 2500-year-old practice of meditation.
Practically, it’s impossible for anyone to honestly do meditation as we are in constant thoughts. Meditation is a method of bringing ourselves back to our conscious state, that assists bridging in the near-impossible gap between consciousness and subconsciousness. And when one is in thoughts, there are only two possible things to process – thoughts of past or future that are not in control, and the present – which is all the information that you are receiving and reacting to right now. However, when without reacting we dare to stay aware, we call that “being present”.
Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.
I arrived here 9 days ago with an aim to stay here for 11 days and undergo rigorous mental training to begin the journey of knowing myself. The training requires hard, serious work. There is a code of discipline that one must abide by before entering the premises of the centre:
- to abstain from killing any being;
- to abstain from stealing;
- to abstain from all sexual activity;
- to abstain from telling lies;
- to abstain from all intoxicants.
The foundation of the practice is sīla — moral conduct. Sīla provides a basis for the development of samādhi — concentration of mind; and purification of the mind is achieved through paññā — the wisdom of insight. Participants are required to observe noble silence for the entire period, which means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow student, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited. The only person one is allowed to speak with is the teacher who is available to meet students privately twice a day.
As I sit in the Dhamma Hall, restless after breakfast, I go back to basics and try to fix my attention on the natural reality of the ever-changing flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. This is where all began. Starting from focussing on breathing around nostrils, I had learned to observe sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature, and had worked hard to develop equanimity by learning not to react to them. However, at this hour, all is feeling lost. Every effort looks futile. After long thought of 8 hours, it was decided. I’m going to quit. I am going home.