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Enlightenment, Anyone? Oct 21 - Nov 1, 2009

Enlightenment, Anyone?

Vipassana 10-Day Meditation Course

GPS waypoint: 14°18'02.1"N 120°56'25.4"E
Location: Dhama Pala, Sico Farms, Municipality of Dasmarinas, Province of Cavite

A Simple Thank You
It's been 6 months since my first (and last) Vipassana meditation course. Even before that was over, I already wanted to serve fulltime for the next course...not necessarily as a way to give dhamma to the new students (as this was still abstract to me), but simply to say 'thank you' for the everything else I experienced during those mind-awakening 10 days.

On The Fence
I can't really say how much change I've had in my life since then, except the intellectual realization of how the technique can bring about liberation from craving and misery. Apart from that, I have not been devoted to my daily Vipassana meditation. I've never experienced the flow-through sensation and that dampened my resolve to give up my other morning rituals for Vipassana (even though I fully realize it's not about the sensation). But, I couldn't walk away from Vipassana either...strange. The best compromise was to attend the monthly meditation and again, be here to serve for the next 10 days.

Server's Mandate
The priority in serving was to ensure the well-being of all 37 meditators. While they took on the serious task of purifying their minds in silent meditation for 10 days, we made all the logistical preparation behind the scene. In my parlance, 'we cleaned the ashtrays while they partied'. They were the main show - freshly cooked metta-infused vegetarian food was served during meal times, and their essential personal needs were addressed. The kitchen was our environment as servers. It is where all the dish preparation, cooking, plating and washing happened. Part-time servers took turns during the 10 days to help out.

Purification by Pain
Having done the course before, I was already comfortable about meditation on a half lotus sit with strong determination. I wanted to bring the discomfort back and see if I can remain equanimous. For the first time, I sat on a full lotus for the entire hour, not moving my legs. Towards the end of the hour, I felt pain like I haven't felt it before. I vowed not to move my legs. Half the time, I was observing this pain, but the other half it was too unbearable I couldn't just observe it...I was enduring it. I broke out in cold sweat and I was nauseated after the hour. It would take another day for me to fully recover from it. It was a paradox. I was practically torturing myself so that I could be free of misery. I can't really claim I understand that.

Movies in my Head
Even as servers, we had to join the 3-hour group meditation everyday, which is something I looked forward to...even with continued frustration. During meditation, the same negative mind pattern presented itself. I couldn't even focus on any body part, let alone feel sensation. Almost immediately after focusing on a body part, a movie (my drifting mind...which I simply refer to as the movie) will sneak into my mind and it might take minutes before I catch myself and shift the focus back into the body part...the vicious cycle repeats itself with a different movie. It was terribly frustrating. Good if the movie was a bed scene with some drop-dead gorgeous actress...but no, it was a repeat of unpleasant events in the past where I got dissed, or an episode where I failed to use the right argument, or a fight, but it was all negative, and the movie seemed to replay the episodes with the same ending - me coming out vindicated, or me having broken my enemy's knees, or me having the last word, or me being right...same old pattern which was really getting old, but I remained too helpless to shake off. After 6 days of frustration, repeatedly shaking off the pattern to no avail, an unusual thing happened - I snapped! No more Mr. Nice guy.

Inversed Bhagavad Gita
Still deep in my mind's eye, I gave up focus on the body part for a body sensation. Instead, I deliberately played a movie where I called on ALL the demons plaguing me and declared open war. What happened next was a scene reminiscent of the Bhagavad Gita, but in reverse. With the Gita, moments before 2 warring armies clashed in open warfare, Krshna and Arjuna, on board a charging chariot in the battlefield, suspended time to deliberate on Vedantic philosophies. They were the placid eye of the storm as hell broke loose around them.

The Battle Scene
My battle scene however took place in a calm sea of meditators going through their 6th day of deep meditation. While the surrounding bliss wrapped around me, chaos reigned within. I was drenched in blood as I crushed skulls, splintered bones, and inflicted pain using every conceivable medieval torture devise I could imagine. I was locking heads into a vise and increasing pressure until blood squirt out, until teeth mashed into each other, until the eyes popped out. All stops were pulled out. In that brief instant, I was Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Ivan the Terrible unleashing all the vicious fury I could muster...with extreme prejudice. I wanted no prisoners...only body counts. Those who maliciously wronged me, I kept alive so they spend every waking moment reminded of what they could no longer be...a fate worse than death itself.

Away from Vipassana
I don't remember how long the battle raged on inside my head, but I was exhausted when I came out of it. Not surprising. It was so vivid my brain couldn't have told the difference if it actually happened or a by-product of my imagination. I could not have departed further from what SN Goenka (Vipassana's spiritual leader) wanted, but my finger was too frail to hold off a breaking dam.

New Movies: a Vipassana Prerequisite?
The following day, I was curious what form or shape my meditation would assume...specially after that battle scene. Interestingly, I still couldn't focus on a body part sensation. The movies continued to play inside my head like torrential waters carving its way through granite. Again, I let go and watched where the movie takes me, mentally prepared for another battle. It didn't turn out that way. They were different this time. Not since a very long time, the movies were positive and pleasant. The enemies were nowhere to be seen this time. I was at peace with my mind. When I catch myself, I bring focus back into the body part, but this time, not for the expected sensation, but for the ensuing movie that would play again. The body part focus became a pretext for the next movie - definitely not the Vipassana way of purifying the mind. It was then I caught the movies early enough, but I could linger on 'observing' the movie with an equanimous mind...and searching for new patterns. I found myself in a new realm. It wasn't Vipassana anymore, but I felt it was something I had to go through for Vipassana to eventually commence.

A Lifetime Pursuit of Enlightenment?
I continue to be inspired by SN Goenka's compassion through his discourse, even though it was the second time for me. But when he talks about saintly persons spending 10, 20 or 50 years in the service of teaching enlightenment, or when I hear about devoted teachers in their dedicated practice of 30 years or so, perfecting the technigue that would ultimately take them to enlightenment, I pause. Granting that I could attain enlightenment in this lifetime after 10 years of practice, would I really be willing to suspend 10 years of my life for it? Wouldn't life just pass me by? What's wrong if I feel pain or joy anyway? Isn't that what life is about? More questions flooded my mind.

Butter Ain't Bad
Hmmm, without enlightenment, this sensory perception of the world around me is still not bad...the exhilaration of a mountain bike run, the agony of defeat, the euphoria of victory, the pain of failure, the joy of being with a loved one...this is exactly what I signed up for, and if that's what I'm getting, then it's all good. In that regard, craving and misery are like spices perking up a satisfying meal. And granting that enlightenment is within reach...and that it promises a life of perpetual I really want that 24/7 for the rest of my life? At some point, I'll start craving for my madness.

Please Define Enlightenment!
Maybe I'm simply misunderstanding enlightenment. But of all the people I asked, "What exactly is enlightenment?", none have given me an answer that satisfies my simple thinking. I get answers like, 'when you can observe everything with an equanimous mind', or 'when you have removed all existing sankaras and no longer generating new ones', or 'when you no longer crave anything nor have aversion to anything' (hmmm...sounds like me when I flatlined on prescribed anti-depressants), or 'when you can offer the other cheek'. Can someone tell me what enlightenment is all about? I hope SN Goenka reads this and explains to me what enlightenment a way my simple thinking can understand.

Ending Thoughts
Now I realize I'm more conflicted about this business of enlightenment than when I first started. Maybe it's not for everyone...or maybe it's only good when the time is right. I remain profoundly grateful that there is such a technique as Vipassana...and that there are compassionate people behind this community who sacrifice time, effort and money to share whatever bliss they experience. I'm also nuts about the wonderful people I worked with. But I'm still on the fence with Vipassana...neither here nor there...still making sense of what just happened. I'm sure at some point, I'll know which side of the fence I'll fall on.

--- TheLoneRider

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Vipassana Blogs:
  1. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 1 (sitter): The Beginning Apr 1-12, 2009
  2. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 2 (server): Enlightenment, Anyone? Oct 21 - Nov 1, 2009
  3. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 3 (sitter): Forgiveness Mar 24 - Apr 4, 2010
  4. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 4 (sitter): Getting Established in the Technique Apr 25 - May 6, 2012
  5. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 5 (sitter): Seeing the Bigger Picture Aug. 20-31, 2014
  6. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 6 (server): Serving at Battambang, Cambodia Sep 17-28, 2014
  7. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 7 (server): Vipassana as an Art of Living May 5-17, 2015
  8. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 8 (sitter): Satipatthana Sutta Vipassana Mar 16-25, 2018
  9. 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 9 (server): Storming out of Dhamma Janani on the 4th Day May 1-5, 2018
Where to Register for a Vipassana course:

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Reader Comments:

(Nov 13, 2009) You're just too awesome for words!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for adding a link to my site on yours!!! Metta.

(Nov 11, 2009) ...enjoyed your photos of last Vipasanna class...hope you'll join us on 22nd

(Nov 10, 2009) Read your blog. Quite interesting your experience, very passionate, I think we all have our mission in this earth, some to teach, some to become warriors of light, some to intercede...

Strike that balance, You are one who can...what is enlightenment after all, for me its when you have wisdom and you live it out. Dear, you do that! Can't wait to hear more from you...while reading it i could feel your enthusiasm i could even hear your voice and see your smile, your eyebrows moving up and down hehehe. Let your light shine

(Nov 9, 2009) i never thought the recurring movies in your head were battle scenes, i though when you mentioned them they were recurring scenes from your life :) day 1 after the retreat i was a bit overwhelmed with my reality and how i can really be equaniminous amid this chaos. for the entire week my body had been conditioned to wake up at 4am and i tried sitting for 1 hour and do the meditation. sadly, the longest i sat was 10 mins. I can hear Goenka in my head to "start again" but the call of the bed was too strong and my mind is still asleep.

"the exhilaration of a mountain bike run, the agony of defeat, the euphoria of victory, the pain of failure, the joy of being with a loved one...And granting that enlightenment is within reach...and that it promises a life of perpetual I really want that 24/7 for the rest of my life? At some point, I'll start craving for my madness." -- TheLoneRider
(Nov 9, 2009) i feel the same way. do i really want to be equanimous all the time? or just hold onto that feeling that i can be equanimous if i wanted to when the madness starts to be too overwhelming? this is the reason i didnt want to be alone with my own mind, nevertheless, it's still something that definitely changed how i view things. :)

Castaway Rob Sy
(Nov 3, 2009) nice... ingats lagi daddy 'gits, c u soon =)

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