Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Vipassana - The Path to Freedom

Vipassana. (vee • puh • shuh • naa). To see things the way they are. That’s the literal translation of the word in Pali—the language of the Buddha. Vipassana is an ancient form of sitting meditation that the Buddha rediscovered and introduced to the world. 

For ten consecutive days a few summers ago, casting aside all luxury and self-indulgences and pledging to adhere to the course rules, I enrolled in and attended a vipassana meditation retreat offered by Spiritual Master S. N. Goenka. Total silence and breath observation characterize this retreat. At the time, I didn’t have the faintest idea of just how swiftly this experience would transpire change. 

So, what did the Buddha want us to see? 

Of the six sense portals of sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch, and thought, the sense of sight is perhaps the most used but least valued. When aroused from bed, the first sight to greet the ancient human was the natural brightness of the early morning sun; most modern humans see the alarm clock’s blinking digits. Sight permits the safe and efficient completion of movement-oriented tasks: walking, running, lifting, climbing, driving, swimming, grooming, cutting, cooking, cleaning, stirring, kicking, and punching. Sight allows us to distinguish the colors of the rainbow, read the printed word, write a letter, watch a movie, type an email, dial a phone number, message friends on Facebook. Sight is a stand-alone entity in that it facilitates the accomplishing of tasks often times without the aid of thinking. These are examples of external or “outer” sights that occur on a daily basis. They are automatic, routine actions that don’t depend on meditation for completion. 

Surely, this isn’t what the Buddha preached about? 

What the Buddha actually referred to was “inner” vision, or that which allows human transformation through self-observation and introspection. So, how does external sight transform into “inner” vision, and in doing so, transform an individual? Also, how is an ancient meditation technique such as vipassana relevant in the digital age? 

Vipassana is the practice of examining the mind through silence and breath observation. Becoming aware of the mental chatter by passively observing the mind’s phantom dramas, and accepting feelings and emotions as transitory entities leads to the understanding that human success depends largely on an honest ability to look inside—at the dark side—and weed out the demons while embracing the vision of a deeper, more meaningful life. 

The practice of vipassana opened up my mind to phenomenal personal growth and spiritual insight. The three take-away messages from the ten-day vipassana retreat were untie the noose of sense gratification, accept the reality of “change,” and unleash the grip of fear. 

We will explore these messages in my future posts. We will focus mainly on analyzing the relevance of vipassana in the digital age. 

May the force of silence be with you

Until then, be well.

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