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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.