Tuesday, August 23, 2011

30-days at Dhamma Thali, Jaipur: Part 1

Even as I begin to write this I wonder if I would ever be able to express what I went through in the 30-days of Vipassana meditation this July -August.
Although I have been practicing this form of meditation for the past 16 years, the recent courses since 2009--the long courses have been very powerful in uprooting some deep negative habit patterns in a way that I wasn't particularly conscious about. My engagement in courses --both adult and children's courses have been a lot more in these recent years than ever before.

It was my first visit to Jaipur. I followed the instructions that the course manager emailed me: take a pre-paid taxi to the center. Jaipur reminded me of Hyderabad in the 70s (except for the pink buildings). Registration being done, as I walked around the center, I was struck by the number of peacocks strutting around freely, talking in their peacock language. There were a whole school of pigeons, a number of monkeys (Langurs) and a variety of birds of different hues. This was going to be my home for the next 30 days---no connection with the outside world.

The course started and I easily slipped into the routine. It didn't take long for my hyperactive mind to calm down and focus on the respiration. Ofcourse there were some days when I would get restless, but generally, I could remain focused for the major portion of the sittings. Even though I had very few hours of sleep in the night, I felt very rested in the morning.

When Vipassana was introduced on the 11th day, I was surprised that I could actually sit during adhitana ( the one hour motion-less group sitting). Wow Radhi! you have got it all correct! I thought gleefully to myself. From time to time I reminded myself that this was "annicca" (impermanent) and things could change any moment. And change came in a big way on the 21st day (August 2nd)

I got up in the morning and found that I couldn't stand! There was pain in my left foot --a feeling one gets when nerves get twisted. I somehow walked to the Dhamma Hall which was only a 2-minute walk from my room, but found it very difficult to get to the Dining Hall for breakfast later. On my way back after breakfast I met the teacher, and explained my strange condition. She gave me a pain balm and I happily went away thinking that a hot water fomentation could be another way to reduce pain.

The pain did not decrease...in fact it got worse. I spent the morning meditating in my room and managed to limp to the dining hall for lunch. The good part of the afternoon was also spent meditating in my room. In the evening, the Dhamma volunteer gave me a stick for support and I could manage to get to the Hall for the group sitting and discourse. I sat on a chair behind everyone. After the discourse the male teacher got me a regular walking stick and I limped back to my room. The teacher asked me to stay in my room the next morning and breakfast and lunch would be served to me in my room itself.

The next 2 days my foot got worse: fomentation ( hot and cold), balms, pain-killer---did nothing to improve the condition and now the foot was swollen. I asked for turmeric powder and made a paste and applied it...the Dhamma sevika said she would try and get me "chuna" (quicklime). So finally on the 4th of August, in the afternoon the angel (dhamma sevika) got me chuna and I made a paste of turmeric and chuna, warmed the cup with the help of a candle and applied the paste on my foot.

The next day I was able to walk better..and in another day I gave up the walking stick and sat on a "chowki" (low stool) instead of a chair.....and by the time the course ended, gave up the "chowki" --on metta day (Day 29) I could sit on my cushion on the ground.

30-days at Dhamma Thali, Jaipur: Part 2

The incident of my foot and the experience of those last 10 days were invaluable in my understanding of Dhamma --the laws of nature.

Many times in the children's courses I have explained to them that anything that is born, grows, blooms and then decays and dies. Pain came on its own, grew in intensity, reached its peak and then had to decay and die. I saw that happening through my experience.

In the beginning, on the first day I did think---maybe I am not worthy of a 30 day course, I should have gone for courses of shorter duration. I thought --I have learned everything that I can--worked with sincerity and now this? I felt like calling Raja and asking him to come over and take me away back to Singapore.

And then wisdom dawned.....let me put to practice what I have learned. My foot hurts when I walk--that was the truth of the moment. However, it did not prevent me from meditating when I was seated. So I focused on my respiration, calmed my agitated mind and focused on the sensations on my body without reacting to them. I found that whenever I rolled in the thoughts mentioned above, my mind got agitated and I was making things difficult for myself. I realized through experience that a calm and focused mind is a rested mind and a sensible mind that worked towards solutions.

Having thus calmed my mind, I worked towards getting to the Dhamma Hall every evening for the group sitting and discourse--it was difficult but not impossible. It was not impossible because my mind was calm and focused and could accept the reality as it presented itself. The discourses were so helpful. It was as if Goenkaji was speaking to me personally.

He said: Storms may come up from time to time...face them bravely... it could happen due to some deep seated negativity (sankhara) which would not have arisen if one had not worked seriously...so it is a good opportunity to clear oneself from the negativity.
Marananu sati: (awareness of death) what if death come in the next minute...would you want your mind to be in a state of agitation? This will lead to the next mind state which would be of a similar quality.

Another useful point made in his discourse was "chittanu passana" --Awareness of the mind, which is one part for the four establishments of Mindfulness. Very frequently my mind would engage in conversations with some people in my life. She says this..so I will say this.. then she will respond in this way and then I will say this in return and on and on.....!
I began to observe this pattern of conversations in my mind...whenever it occurred--I would just notice it---Oh here it is again! and my mind would quickly abandon it and return to the focus of respiration and sensations in my body.

It was a liberating experience--to cut the chatter in my mind, to break the generation of negative thoughts, to realize that everyone was suffering in their own way and every one was hurting others through their own ignorance. Some of the conversations in my mind were painful, yet I was indulging in them--I was doing that because of my own ignorance and what great attachment to this madness!

Another liberating experience was non-identification with whatever arose in the mind and body. Constant observation, noticing of the happenings in the mind and body paved the way for a gradual detachment or non-identification with them. I could watch my thoughts as they came up without getting involved with the contents; I could observe the pain, the swelling of my foot as it happened without getting perturbed or worried.

When I returned from Jaipur, I was transformed-- I knew I had changed. There were provocations for anger--but all that I felt was surprise--surprise that people could behave in a way that was different from my expectation. And compassion towards them...they don't know what they are doing! I felt lighter and happier than ever before.

My daughter Akanksha said that so beautifully: Amma is so happy ever since she returned from India.
Yes, it is not just an ordinary happiness one experiences when one returns to a family after a gap of one and half month..it is a happiness from deep within.... gratitude for being born in this era when I could receive the teaching in its purity, gratitude to the noble person who showed the way and people who preserved the tradition and brought it to us to learn and experience.