When I left for the 10 days retreat (Vipassana) in Igatpuri on the 9th of December, the city of Mumbai here was much tense. Or perhaps I sensed it that way because I was tense myself.
There were burning embers everywhere, in the minds of the people affected by the Terror attack on Mumbai.
People advocating stern action against Terrorism marched the streets with candle-light vigils and placards expressing rage against the Government for its soft stance on terror. Many heads in the administration were set rolling with one resignation after another. There was serious tension in the South-Asian region with escalating tensions between India and Pakistan over cross-border terrorism.
The TV news channels depicted a blow-by-blow account of the attack and the aftermath, (laughing all their way to the bank! I am sure. In times of recession what could have been a better source of revenue for them than having all the eyeballs glued to the TV sets in terror!)
There was a false alarm at my workplace, about terrorists making their way into our locality with police in hot pursuit. There was hectic frenzy, as we locked the students indoors and downed our shutters.
Much of my information about the TV news coverage of the terrorist modus-operandi in preparation for the attack, came from my students. It seemed like here were 16 year olds and above, who had their ears against radio broadcasts detailing happenings of World-War II. It seemed every student had been affected in some way, either by extreme hatred for the neighbouring country, or rage and fear.
And even as they put up a brave front and spoke to me without a trace of fear on their faces, I wondered what it was doing to their innocent minds?
Will they ever feel safe again?
This, as I asked myself the same question again and again- will I ever feel safe again in this city after this bluntly open Terrorist attack on the Indian soil?
Destiny came to my rescue: I say so, because I was much stressed out then. I would go to work religiously, much for the love of the company of my students and remaining for the dedication I feel for the work at my workplace.
Last month, before the terror attack, my Director had booked a seat for me in a 10 days long retreat in Dhammagiri, Igatpuri, outside the city.
So the opportunity to retreat from all this mess came as a blessing in disguise. I was being paid for a 10days long retreat wherein I had to take the vow of silence, withdraw from any contact with the outside world, sustain on basic needs like just two meals per day and shelter, and daylong meditation.
However, on the 2nd day itself I found out that it was not all cakewalk. Having to face one’s own mind, having no escape in TV, Internet, friends, work etc, having to be with oneself all day was a torture.
And all those hours of keeping my eyes closed, following instructions on meditation, and the clock that seemed to have slowed down its pace to the medieval ages!
In the 9 days of silence, there was hardly an incident of my life that did not pass through my mind. In all these days I came to face with the feelings of fear and passion that had kept my mind tossing from one activity to another, one mind-game to another.
And that was just the scratch on the surface. I was told that I was in a hospital where the wounds of my past would be brought to the surface, and dug into to bring out the entire puss in order to heal the wound.
And what a gory sight it truly was!
My mind kept chatting endlessly, my heart was full of panic and passions, I wanted to escape.
But there was no escape. I knew that if I wanted to save myself from getting myself admitted to the lunatic asylum soon in life, I had to undergo this sooner or later, i.e. face myself. So with that determination, and seeing through the folly of escaping into a world that went round and round in circles, kept me in.
The technique, I found, was very much similar to the technique of self-observation and awareness that I had learnt over at Uma’s, my therapist.
And because I had experienced the benefits of such a technique years ago with my therapist, I decided to test what more they had to give.
The Vipassana technique goes a step further from Uma’s awareness technique (if I may call so, because I learnt it from her). Uma’s technique helps one to be still to come to terms with feelings that are otherwise repressed or twisted in order to escape the pain.
The Vipassana technique went further, allowing me to understanding how to overcome the suffering and deal with the root cause of pain as I looked at bodily sensations not just the “bad” ones but also the “good” ones with the dispassionate attitude of a “Drishta”, one who merely observes and does not succumb to the diktat of the monkey-mind to react.
Just watching this way, and living a monastic life away from all outside stimuli of the material world, following a strict code of discipline- one is able to see through one’s conditioning and how one easily succumbs to “what the Buddha put across as Raga i.e. Craving and Dvesha i.e. Aversion.
I saw that my mind was a slave of these two feelings at the root of it all- intense craving for good bodily sensations and intense aversion to bad bodily sensations.
Also I found that by merely observing the body in silence, one discovers there are gross and subtle sensations in every inch of the body and by training the mind to look at these without judgement allows one to free oneself from the results of their potential harm to oneself and to others. This way, instead of giving in to intellectual investigation, a different light that of Awareness shines through, one of Pragya. Through awareness, one can study the entire body and find out the Truth.
The Buddists believe that what lies outside lies inside and what lies out lies within. So by going on this inner journey one can eliminate karma before they are born in the present moment and at the same time allow dormant karmas (potential cravings and aversions) of one’s past and past lives.
On the tenth day, I waited in anticipation for the time to break our vow of silence. It meant I could collect my mobile phone that was taken away from me on the very first day, and speak with my mom and others outside.
However even as I stood in the queue to collect my cell phone, I found that the sudden noise hurting. I think, this was when I understood how natural it is for our mind and tongue to be silent, and how we have dis-eased ourselves with the habit of “intellectual masturbation” and “verbal attack”
a long, narrow excavation in the ground, the earth from which is thrown up in front to serve as a shelter from enemy fire or attack.
Today, a mate at BasicIndia googlegroups said that I had withdrawn in a ‘trench’. I wish I could have taken her and all my students and everybody else to that trench with me! If only they were willing to do some unlearning!
I would have loved to tell her that I saw how foolish our mind-games have been in our interactions. I would have loved to tell her that I still stood by my convictions (doing vipassana does not mean I have had to surrender my individuality) but also saw how I was reacting to my own mindgames and what damage I was doing to myself and others, just like everyone else. I would have liked to share so much with her.
But as she and everyone else on the planet, including me, rant endlessly – This world is made of deaf people.
If only each one of us zipped our mouths for a while and “put your energy where your mouth used to be and help” (as Uma chastened me today), this world would be a better place! Indeed!