Note that I am a beginner, and not quite sure if I understand everything. But as I started to write about my personal experience, I also feel like sharing my understanding of the philosophy behind Vipassana.
It is a technique that was practiced by Siddhartha Gautama to attain enlightenment. He is known as ‘Buddha’ because the word ‘Buddha’ means the enlightened one. So in reality anyone who attains enlightenment is a ‘Buddha’. As to what is enlightenment, I don’t yet know for sure. However, I do believe that we are made up of more than mind and matter. When one stops identifying oneself with the body or the mind, and instead with what lies beyond it, then one is enlightened. There are things about enlightenment that either I do not fully comprehend or agree with. A separate note on that.
Some of the practical aspects of the technique first.
The meditation technique teaches you to separate mind and body. The first part focuses on ignoring thought. The more you try to ignore it, the more you hear your thoughts. The mind hates to not be in-charge. At some point you realize that your mind is controlling you, and not the other way round. The mind only knows two types of thoughts. These are ‘thoughts of craving’ ( wanting something) or ‘thoughts of aversion’ ( not wanting something). You also learn how even if you think a particular thought a thousand times, it does go away and is replaced by another thought. By nature, they are impermanent.
The second part of the course teaches you to observe the body but not react to it. This means sitting for an hour at a time without movement, no matter how painful it gets. You also learn to observe the sensations in the body in a specific disciplined way. The goal is to observe the sensation of pain ( or pleasure) only as a sensation of the body and separate it from the ‘thought of pain’ ( or pleasure). Here again, after a while, you start to notice that whatever the body is feeling goes away if you don’t react to it for long enough.
So the entire technique is built first on on separating mind and body. Second, on understanding that the mind or the body sensation actually goes away, even if you don’t react to it. Third, that the body sensation always precedes mental thought. Fourth, that while we cannot control the body sensation, we can control the thought that follows the sensation, (i.e. if we can first recognize the sensation). And last, to experience this phenomenon in our own bodies enough times, and not just understand it intellectually. (which will sort of defeat the purpose :).
The technique forces to not use any sort of mantra or visualization to meditate and to stay focused in reality. i.e. only pay attention to reality as it is happening with in the body. The mind or thought has no place in reality.
The philosophy behind the technique.
For simplification, I will refer to enlightenment as ‘peace of mind’, which is as far as my understanding goes of the term.
When Siddhartha Gautama ( Buddha) attained peace of mind, he only attained it for himself. He did not attain it for the rest of mankind. He has only told other people how he got there ( i.e. by using the above technique). So if another person wants to attain it, they have to do the work of getting there themselves.
When people say ‘take refuge in Buddha’, it simply means to take refuge in enlightenment. i.e. to take refuge in ‘peace of mind’ and to take refuge in ‘peace of mind’ simply means to understand that all thoughts and body sensations eventually go away and that nothing is permanent. Understanding that nothing is permanent gives ‘peace of mind.’ And that is the full circle.
I also understand the term ‘the middle path‘ a little better. I have been accustomed to seeing very extreme Buddhists i.e. those who choose not to eat anything but fruit, those who put themselves through extreme physical pain etc. I had the misunderstanding that these people had got ‘the middle path’ quite wrong. But I get it now.
The point of the ‘middle path’ philosophy is not about action at all. Any person is free to perform any action at all and very often actions have to be performed due to consequences. Life just happens. The ‘middle path’ is about ‘mind control’ and not ‘action control’. So If I choose to not eat sugar all year ( heaven forbid) or for some reason cannot get sugar, then the action of not eating sugar might be considered a bit extreme. However if I remain calm while doing it ( neither too happy or too sad), then I am following ‘the middle path’. This offers peace of mind and there you go again..
God has not created man in his own image, but rather man has created God in his. Buddha’s original teachings have little to do with Buddhism.
Things I do NOT agree with.
A large part of the discourse focused on our karma. Every action has a consequence. That the universe is balanced. That our actions can have consequences from a past life in to a future life. This means that some sad, cruel person died and his bad karma has flown itself in to a new life being born. This new born will now suffer the consequence of the actions of the sad, cruel person. You could get lucky and get the actions of a good kind person but either way I do NOT think this makes the universe balanced. Just the opposite.
I see a lot of poor men working in the heat of 48 degrees, making Dubai livable these days. Even if their previous lives had been spent killing and hurting thousands, I do not want them to suffer in the heat in this life, because of it. This is little to do with compassion. It has more to do with reason. THIS person has no knowledge of his past deeds ( if at all there were past deeds), so why should he pay for it in this life? How does this balance the universe???
To be modern, the teacher said on the tape, that if we do not believe in past and future lives, we can just use the karma philosophy over ‘one life’. Which I can sort of accept..but I’d still rather be good for the sake of being good, and not out of fear that some bad thing will happen if I am not good.
But what is good…..next 😉
Website for Vipassana: http://www.dhamma.org/