Oct 22, 2014

Universal Impact of Vipassana:Training to be in Reality of Present Moment

From Sayagyi U Goenka's article, Munificent Nature of Dhamma’ , first published in 1985.

A human being is a social being. One's contribution to make the social fabric more peaceful and harmonious is true yardstick of being a useful member of society. The basis of any healthy, harmonious society is always the healthy and harmonious individuals who populate it.

A disturbed person starts disturbing others by spreading his tension and disharmony. We can only share what we have. So, obviously, a society or country can be peaceful and harmonious only with individuals living in peace and harmony. Vipassana is a unique, secular, practical method to attain an island of inner peace in one’s world.

Vipassana is the objective process of self-observation, of experiencing truths within. This has nothing to do with any particular sect. Sects and dogmas create barriers and divisions between people. Vipassana removes barriers. 

We see this inspiring unifying nature of Vipassana in a meditation hall of any Vipassana centre. In Dhamma Giri, for instance, hundreds of people from various religions, as well as religious leaders, sit meditating together peacefully under the same roof, silently observing universal truths within. In fact, Vipassana meditators belonging to various religions say: “Why, this is our religion in practice!” (*)

With Vipassana practice, we experience the true essence of all religions: how to live without harming oneself and others. Vipassana uproots feelings of superiority, inferiority from different sections of society. It eradicates impurities in the mind and thereby eradicates unhealthy complexes. Vipassana meditation is equanimity to awareness of truth of what is happening within, as it is, this moment.

Vipassana meditators from various communities, religions, languages, social-economic background, in the inner dome Dhamma Hall of the Global Vipassana Pagoda, Mumbai, India.

Practicing Vipassana develops the faculty of insight to see things as they really are, without conditioning of the mind. The conditioning of the mind – accumulated bias of our past experiences - becomes a big barrier to seeing things in their true nature. To be liberated from ignorance and suffering, we have to break free from past conditioning of the mind; shatter blind emotional, intellectual attachment to dogmas and doctrines. Instead, experiential wisdom becomes the pure guiding light in life.

A life in reality is living in the present moment. To be free from irritation towards others, feelings of hate, greed, illusions, envy, passion, fear, anger and any other negativity - it is necessary to live in the present moment. Let go the past moment. Be strong, let go.

Philosophical beliefs, delusions and emotional devotion have no role in this. Living in the present moment means to be totally aware of whatever is being experienced at this very moment. Those moments that have passed are no longer real; there can only be memory of those moments. Similarly, moments yet to come are not real, as we can only have hopes or fears about them.

Pleasant, unpleasant memories, hopes and fears take us away from the present moment. A life with a wildly wandering mind is a life of delusion - it creates difficulties and defiles the mind. Vipassana trains us to live in reality of the present, and removes dissatisfaction, anxiety, frustration etc to anything that has happened. [Whenever needed, we consciously direct the mind to the past - to learn from experiences, or direct the mind when planning ahead. Vipassana halts its uncontrolled wandering.]

The Buddha re-discovered Vipassana and became fully enlightened. He did not say he invented Vipassana. He said this is a timeless path, but long lost to humanity. Like other sammasambuddhas (fully enlightened beings) eons before him, Gotama the Buddha re-discovered and shared the path to experience depth of truth of this moment. 

A student of Vipassana develops faculty to be aware, with equanimity, of what one experiences this moment - at level of bodily sensations. Everything arises to pass away. This is no more a mere intellectual understanding. With Vipassana, this becomes experienced wisdom. Earlier there was blind reaction of suffering when the pleasant changed to the unpleasant. Now there is equanimity to what is happening now. 

What is happening now? The Vipassana practitioner realizes the life-changing truth: our craving or aversion, happiness or unhappiness is not to outside situations and people - but to pleasant or unpleasant sensations arising in the body when sense organs come in contact with objects of the world.  

The apparent truth is that we react to someone who did something we liked or disliked. The actual truth is that we react to bodily sensations that arise instantly with every thought, or other sensory contact such as vision, words, taste, touch, fragrance. Sensations may have arisen this moment due to other reasons - atmospheric conditions, a disease or ailment, sitting for long time, accumulated impurities in the mind manifesting themselves as sensations. 

Whatever the sensation for whatever reason, the Vipassana meditator uses every experience of sensations as a tool to develop equanimity, and eradicate the past habit pattern of craving or aversion.

Instead of the earlier habit of instant blind reactions, losing balance of mind, getting annoyed with criticism or puffed up with praise, Vipassana training enables one to merely observe with equanimity the bio-chemical flow of impermanent sensations. Nothing lasts forever. With equanimity, we respond better to changing situations in life - with more clarity and wisdom. 

The practice of mindful equanimity eradicates deep-rooted conditioning of past blind reactions. With gradual eradication of past conditioning (sankaras), we gradually become free from attachment and lust for sensual pleasures, painful memories of the past, anxieties about the future. No more worries of, "Oh, what will happen to me?" 

The mind becomes peaceful and pure, with equanimity to sensations. We become more focused, developing penetrating insight to go to the depth of any problem - and find a more beneficial solution. The purer mind develops ego-less compassion for others. In personal and professional life, quality of life becomes better.

The practice of Vipassana is beneficial for one and all, irrespective of caste, community, nationality, language or religion. The Buddha did not start a religion. He never asked anyone to bow down before his image, make offerings, or merely chant verses of his teachings. He taught the secular method of Vipassana to eradicate impurities in the mind. Using this Vipassana soap to clean the mind, we progressively experience the same benefits the Buddha experienced. 

Only with the actual practice of the Buddha's teaching, any expression of respect and gratitude to the Buddha becomes true respect and gratitude. This gratitude, based on experiencing the practical benefits of Buddha’s teaching, does not become a blind belief or a sectarian dogma. It becomes a factor of enlightenment. This experiential gratitude makes the mind tender – a necessity in the process of purification in Vipassana practice.

The object of Vipassana meditation is not the Buddha; it is the faculty to experience the subtlest of bodily sensations. Why so? The root level of the mind, where conditioning takes place, is 24/7 -  every living moment - directly in touch with bodily sensations, not to happenings in the outside world. With equanimity to sensations, we change the habit pattern of the mind from blind reaction to positive, well-considered action.

By objectively observing the arising, passing sensations, we are in tune with the universe this moment – everything in it is changing, in constant flow and flux, impermanent vibrations arising, passing away with great rapidity. Only the observed, no more observer....

Vipassana practice can be accepted and practiced by all. Which religion objects to a natural method to remove impurities in the mind? Each Vipassana meditator becomes a scientist exploring the truth within: objectively observing oneself, studying true nature of one’s mind and body, how mind and body interact, influence each other every moment.

Awareness and equanimity to changing bio-chemical flow of subtlest sensations is the universal way to eradicate mental defilements. Whether to suffer or not is a choice we make each moment. Vipassana enables us to make the right choice of being with pure reality, this moment. Such a state of mind is free from fetters, from moment to moment. Such a person not only lives a happy and peaceful life, but becomes an instrument for enhancing happiness and peace of others.

May the munificent, benevolent, universal nature of Vipassana reach all, and lead to peace, happiness and liberation of each individual.

May all beings be happy.

(*) "Buddha has made me a better Muslim.” (in other words: "how Vipassana made me a better human being")

Aug 20, 2014

Serve in Dhamma without Expectations

Message from Principal Vipassana Teacher Sayagyi U Goenka
Annual Dhamma service meeting, Dhamma Giri, India, January 13, 1991

Dear Dhamma sons and Dhamma daughters:
We have undertaken very serious work. It is a very serious responsibility to serve others in Dhamma. If there is any impurity in our intentions, even a trace of desire that, "I must get something in return for all this service that I am giving," then our whole purpose will be lost. People who expect some material gain for the teaching of Dhamma can never teach Vipassana; they are totally unfit. 

On the other hand, there are those who understand they are not serving people in Dhamma for any material gain, and yet there will be some expectation of getting respect from others. "Well look, I am doing such a good service. I am giving such an invaluable jewel of Vipassana, so I have every right to be respected." If even a trace of expecting appreciation or recognition, respect from others remains, understand that one is not yet fit to serve others. First serve oneself - that is, first dissolve one's ego - and only then one is fit to serve others in Dhamma. 

The Enlightened One exhorted all those he sent for Dhamma service:
Caratha bhikkhave cārikam—Go forth, O monks
 Go forth for what?
Bahujana-hitāya—for the good of many; bahujana-sukhaya—for the happiness of many;
lokānu-kampāya—out of compassion for all beings.

Beginning of Vipassana journey in this life. Meditation Hall, Dhamma Thali, (Jaipur), Rajasthan, India.

There is suffering all around us, rich or poor, young or old. More people should come out of their suffering. That is the aim of sharing Vipassana - to serve others. Your gain is automatically involved. To reach the final stage of full enlightenment you have to develop your paramīs, and everything that you do for the good of others helps to develop your pāramīs.

If someone thinks even for a moment, "Let more and more people start calling themselves Buddhists, let there be a strong Buddhist sect, let people who are in the courtyard of other sects come into my courtyard so I have a larger number of followers," then one has not understood Buddha, has not understood Vipassana. The Buddha's teachings are universal; he did not start a sect or a religion in his name.

An incident in the Buddha's life: he went to a place where he gave a discourse to large numbers of recluses and followers of a particular sect. They were hesitant, thinking, "This fellow may convert us away from our sect."

The Buddha explained, "I have not come here to gather students for myself. I am not interested in making you my disciples. Don’t become frightened of that. I am not here to break your relationship with your teachers; may that continue. You have received something from your teachers, and you have respect for them as you should have. You give donations to these teachers; keep on giving to them. I am not here to stop you from achieving your goal of coming out of suffering and reaching full liberation. Whatever I will teach you to practice will help you to reach that goal. Give me seven days of your life, just try this."  

This should be our attitude in sharing the Buddha's teaching of Vipassana: "Just try this universal, non-sectarian practice to remove impurities in the mind, to change the habit pattern of generating negativity. We are not interested in converting you from this or that religion. Give just ten days of your life to learn Vipassana, and after that if you find it good, accept it. Otherwise, leave it." Then we are not expecting anything in return. We are just on the giving end. 

My teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin used to say, "I am on the giving end, never on the receiving end. If people want to take, they take. If they don’t want to take, they don’t take. With all my compassion, I just humbly give."

This should be the ego-less attitude of everyone who takes the most beneficial responsibility of giving Dhamma service. We are simply giving, without any kind of expectation. 

There is only only one motive—compassion, with the wish that more people benefit from practicing Vipassana in its purity. We benefited when we sat Vipassana courses through the Dhamma service of many others. May others too benefit from our Dhamma service.

And if people do not benefit, what can we do? We serve, but sometimes there may be some who do not work correctly and do not get the benefits. Again compassion, again give Dhamma service, that’s all.  Never become disappointed when people do not work properly and do not get what they should. If we become irritated with students, then it shows we have expectations, attachment to one's efforts. When ego arises, the Dhamma service becomes impure. Nobody benefits from Dhamma service given with ego or wrong volition.

Of course we wish that all benefit from practicing Vipassana, this universal path taught by the Buddha, and so we do our best. We keep practicing Vipassana, give Dhamma service - without expecting anything. Certainly this gives its own good result. 

Initial difficulties are bound to occur (remember the difficulties, confusion in one's own first Vipassana course!), because beginners have their own mental conditioning. So a new student may see things through coloured lenses. I too was initially hesitant in taking my first Vipassana course in Burma, thinking, "I am a staunch Hindu, a leader of the Hindu community here, and these people might convert me to Buddhism." However, all such fears vanished when I actually took my first Vipassana course.

Later, when Sayagyi U Ba Khin instructed me to take the priceless jewel of Vipassana to the Dhamma land of its origin, I faced a lot of suspicion when I first started teaching Vipassana in India. Some thought, "Look, this person’s motive certainly is to convert people." If one has a sectarian mind one will always see everything as sectarian. There are people in this country who come and establish hospitals, schools and different social institutes, and then after a few years of service they start to convert the people who come there to their religion.

Since such things have happened, people started feeling, "Look! This fellow has come from Burma and says he is here to serve people. Yes, people get peace and happiness, they come out of drugs or alcohol or other problems. This is wonderful. But his ultimate aim is to convert everybody to Buddhism."

Well, one smiles. If this was really the intention, one would become agitated, thinking, "Look, my clever scheme has been discovered. Now how will I be successful?" But if the mind is pure one feels, "Let people talk. If not today, they will understand tomorrow." The pure teaching of Vipassana spreads only in this way.

Similarly in Western countries, there is some initial hesitation about accepting Vipassana. Some think, "Look, a foreign religion is coming to our country." The initial doubt is there. But our intentions are purely to serve, to share with people an universal practice to purify the mind, and be happy. And if this aim is not polluted, success will eventually come.

A time is bound to come for the wider sharing of Vipassana - despite initial difficulties, provided the practice of Vipassana is kept pure, and the intention of those giving Dhamma service is pure. The volition is very important. We are merely vehicles of Dhamma, and if the volition of the vehicle is good more people will benefit. But if somebody plays an ego game in the name of Dhamma service, naturally Dhamma will drive this person away.

Pure Vipassana is bound to benefit millions around the world. The time has ripened. There is so much suffering all around. In the name of religion and sects, people are fighting with each other, killing each other. People keep getting agitated about "my religion, my religion," without understanding at the actual level what their religion is. A universal, practical remedy such as Vipassana is the need of the day. Anger and hatred can be conquered only with metta, not by reacting with anger.

Animosity, violence and suffering increase when people do not experience the actual benefits of living a wholesome life - just as every religion teaches. People correctly practicing Vipassana experience the actual benefits of their own religion. This inner peace makes this a much better world. In spite of all the darkness, there is this light of Dhamma, this small, growing light of Vipassana. This pure light of Vipassana is bound to glow brighter in oneself, and around the world.

Just as it is essential to have schools, colleges, hospitals, gymnasiums etc, similarly a time is bound to come when there will be a Vipassana centre in every village in the world. More people worldwide will start understanding the necessity of Vipassana practice, to keep the mind healthy and free from impurities. As we learn physical exercise by going to a gymnasium, we learn this mental exercise of Vipassana at a meditation centre. This has nothing to do with any cult, or any sect. Vipassana is an exercise to keep the mind healthy, wholesome and pure so that we live a good life - and share the benefits of Vipassana with others. This is the purpose of Dhamma service.

If the aim of serving others without expectation remains clear, and the practice of Vipassana is kept very pure, the suffering within and all around is bound to be dispelled, eradicated. Real peace will come, real harmony, happiness - within oneself, and in one's world. 

May all enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness.
May all beings be happy. May you be happy.

Sayagyi U Ba Khin on Vipassana (26.5 min); followed by Sayagyi U Goenka answering questions on Vipassana

 Steps to meditation cells in the Pagoda, Dhamma Giri, Igatpuri, India.
May all beings be happy, be liberated from all suffering.