Vipassana – ten days in a meditation prison

Author: Alex

Km 10440 – Langkawi, Malaysia

For this entry I got some help of Andreas Altmann, a German travel writer. His book about Vipassana „If you meet Buddha, kill him“ (in German only „Triffst Du Buddha, töte ihn. Ein Selbstversuch.“) is very inspiring and I will quote him a couple of times.

It was written everywhere, we read it, we heard it and we had to promise to stay for the total period of ten days. Ten days in a fenced area within palm tree plantations, ten days without any communication (not to the outside world, not inside the camp, no words, no gestures, nothing) and ten days without distraction (no mobile phone, computer, writing materials, music instruments, valuables – everything is locked before the course starts). We knew also about the code of ethics: Do not kill (NO living being, not even mosquitos), do not steal, do not lie, no sex and no drugs.

A Vipassana course is mostly about practicing. Sitting down for around 11 hours per day, close your mouth, close your eyes and don’t move. So easy and yet so hard. Plus observing your breath (= for the first three and a half days) and later the whole surface of your body, searching for sensations. Bit by bit sensing, feeling, being attentive. Itching, scratching, sweating, pain, pressure, prickling – anything, even not any sensation is ok. Just be in that particular moment, just concentrate. Stop the galloping thoughts, stop the ongoing roller coaster of your brain. Vipassana is a training camp for concentration (Samadhi).

So far, so good. But what is it all about? Ten days sitting around to observe, that you sweat in the hollow of your knee, that your head is itchy and your left foot feels prickly? Surley not! Because here the real meditation starts. To all sensations you should react with equanimity. No aversion, no craving – just observe and accept. Pain is pain, Itching is Itching. And Goenka, the teacher, the poet: „Itching is not eternal. Nothing is eternal.“ Here lies the first important truth, the first law of nature Vipassana wants to talk about: Impermanence (Anicca). Everything, without exception, is impermanent. Vipasssana is a training camp for equanimity.

Dhamma Hall

Dhamma Hall

Now some points of theory:

There are elementary particles, which arise and go in a enormous speed . These subatomar particles are rather an extremely fast vibration, without substance or consistency. Still they are the base of all atoms, all cells and yet all life. Everything comes and goes. Like the ego, the I of a human is not the same in any second.

Altmann writes:

I remember my Ego. Which, according to Buddhism, does not exist. That’s why we are sitting here, to realise – through accurate observation of the processes inside – that the statement that there is no ego is true. Not my ego, not the ego of somebody else. Says Buddha. What we think the ego is, is nothing but imagination, an unbelievably persistent Fata Morgana. According to the master nothing is ‘permanent’, no part on earth is eternal, everything passes away, every atom moves constantly, every living cell changes, why then should be there an ‘ego’? Mood swings are showing us that the ego doesn’t have a constant dimension. It is changing from minute to minute, sometimes from second to second. It feels this way, then the total opposite. It has no foundation, no solid basis, it has nothing. Just our imagination.“(p. 93).

The problem with the ego: It is the starting point for comparison. Mine is better than yours (my nation, my belief, my skin colour, my car, … ad infinitum). Just a few steps further and a fight starts. Everybody reacts sensitively, if there is an attack to someone’s ego, one’s I and one’s positive self-image within. At lightning speed one blocks and defends oneself to protect the self-image.

With the sensibility training named Vipassana, one is supposed to break through this mechanism of unconscious reaction. Through meditation, meaning the concentration on our sensations and reacting to them with equanimity, more sensitivity and more inner peace can be achieved. That’s the idea. Pain, scolding, loss, anger – no matter what, the strategy is: observe and accept. By doing that no new negativities are produced which stick to the unconscious. No reactions that evoke an anti-reaction. No escalation. When there is the smallest „attack“ to the Ego, the I, one should be able to react with equanimity, tranquility, balance and therefore being able to stop the (verbal) violence as early as possible. Who keeps reacting with equanimity, keeps himself out of trouble.

What can we learn from this? That our own reaction defines our moods and feelings. In life, we often try to see the problem in others: I am in a bad mood, because HE or SHE didn’t act appropriately. Or differently said : They didn’t act as I wanted them to. So think about it again, where lies the cause for the problem? Each person causes negativities in himself and not the object that our aversion is aimed at. It is the personal angle of view towards the reality and the ego, that cannot accept the world as it is. We are responsible for our luck, just us alone. We lay the seed in our mind and harvest the fruits in our actions. Good sees = good fruits. No god, no prayer, no ritual, no confession can help. Who does something bad, does something bad. No excuse, no indulgence. Who wants to do good, should – surprise! – do good. It’s so easy, but yet so hard.

Almost each day Goenka emphasizes that Vipassana should never turn into a religious community. (Religious) communities only know about their own truth. Those who believe differently and follow their truth are (in the best case) tolerated and ignored, or (in the worst case) persecuted and slaughtered. This way the religion misses the point – because all religions have, as Goenka says, „love, peace and purity“ as an aim (less declamatory: goodwill, attention, understanding, respect, helpfulness, …). These are universal principles. As soon as they are only promoted towards one religious (or skin colour or status or…) group, they are not universal anymore, not pure, not genuine.

Dhamma Malaya in Gambang

Dhamma Malaya in Gambang

And „from society no help can be expected. It is already so busy, to take care of the level of shallowness, fun shallowness. It wants the hype, the contrary of intensivity. It wants to soak our heads in a liquid of permanent infantilisation. It wants, to say it in another way, prevent at all costs that we stop and ask ourselves if it is a good life that we live or a crappy life. It wants the status quo, the mature shopper, the smart time killer.(Altmann, p.184)

And Goenka awfully sings into the night again, he then become a hero again – as a speaker. One more time he realized that speeches from meditation heaven don’t help us here on earth. He says many sentences which are easy to understand: that this is just the beginning. That we should not hope for anything, should not expect anything. Especially not enlightenment. We should just train attentiveness every day and that this is a lifetime job. We shouldn’t discuss about it. Just sit, just do. Not negotiating every day if right or wrong. No just shut up and ignore the pleading of the lazy body. And this is the highlight of the jazz up talks: Vipassana is just useless if your friendliness quotient doesn’t rise. If your attentiveness doesn’t grow. If you don’t increase your tranquility when dealing with the world. If your life temperature doesn’t grow, if you don’t feel this unbelievably beautiful feeling, to feel alive.“ (Altmann, p. 210)

With thoughts, with ideas, with advice for philantrophy, attentiveness, godlessness and – surely the most important – his call for mental independence. Thanks to Buddha I have enough of Buddhism now. To be a Buddhist sounds as absurd to me today as being a Moslem or a Christian. As if one, only one teaching could suffice to cope with the ludicrous diversity of live, of the world, of the world’s secrets.“ (Altmann, p. 214)

The next blog entry shall be less philosophic again. Who would like to know more about our personal experiences (backache, free flow, conclusions), can just write us a little email 😉

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