This too will change …
I have a distinct memory of being 4 years old and sitting on a high box-bed with a bright yellow cover, watching my Dadubhai (maternal grandfather) changing his kurta and tightening his lungi, and talking incessantly to him. I was always excited to catch a glimpse of the Brahmin thread strung diagonally across his maida-white, plump upper body. “Sit silent and still for 5 minutes in padmasana, and I will give you 5 paise!” Dadubhai lured me, probably just trying to gain a few minutes of peace while he changed his clothes. (Apparently the going rate back then was a paisa a minute.) In fact, that is my last concrete impression of Dadubhai; a year later he passed away.
Now, 30 years since that last memory, I have just returned to this overwhelmingly noisy world from 10 days of total silence. I went to a meditation course in the tradition of Vipassana – the original teaching of Gautam Buddha in its most pristine form. Amongst other precepts one must accept at entry into the course, is a vow of Noble Silence for the entire duration. Noble Silence is defined as silence of speech, mind and body.
Judging by my boisterous, expressive and talkative nature, many a friend or relative chuckled -privately or openly- at the thought of my not talking for 10 days. Well, it turned out that silence of speech was the least of my difficulties. For one, the noise that emanates from your mind keeps you wildly entertained at best, and drives you completely crazy at worst. Then, there is the meditation schedule: morning bell at 4am and lights out at 10pm. 18 fully scheduled hours, with 13 hours of meditation, an hour plus of televised lectures from Shri S.N. Goenka, and the remaining time reserved for the two wonderful, fully vegetarian meals, showers and other maintenance chores. There can be no reading or journaling. And most extreme in the difficulties, is the meditation technique itself, which permits no aids such as verbalizations or visualizations, but is based in continuous, neutral, detached observations of one’s own body AS IT IS – through observing respiration and sensation. But how must one observe? The two pillars of the practice are Awareness and Equanimity. Awareness is the act of observing the present moment, as it is: “yatha bhuta.” Equanimity is responding with neither craving, nor aversion to what you have just observed. (As an aside, isn’t it interesting to note, that the literal meaning of the word “sin” in ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament, is “to miss the mark.” (Reference: Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, 2005.) So to sin is to not be aware of what is, as it is.)
It is ironic that to really describe everything that I experienced in 10 days of silence would require endless talking. It would be a rather futile exercise, one at odds with the teaching itself, the very premise of which is that the only way to liberation (a step behind full enlightenment) is to actually experience the universal, eternal truth, the law of nature (or God Almighty as one may choose to call it), within the framework of one’s own body. It is here that the mind-body interface can be experienced and understood and eventually, dissolved and transcended. It is through our bodies that the impurities of our minds can be released, and a crystal-clarity can be achieved about the changing, impermanent, fluid-energy nature of the universe – within and without, at the smallest and grossest scales. I suddenly knew that quantum physics (or really, all physics) is essentially a theoretical, mathematical exposition of the experiential truth of Gautam Buddha’s teachings! Yet, no matter how much learned knowledge (whether scientific or scriptural) or independently arrived at intellectual realizations one might have, there is simply no other way on the Noble Path other than to -physically- walk it oneself.
And this is why the universal truth has eluded most through centuries. In search of eternal, essential truth, we have either become zealous scientists or zealous devotees of various religions – God created in the image of man. (What else could conjure up the notion of a punishing God capable of condemning His very own creations to Hell, but the limited, blindly egocentric mind of man? As man avenges, so he thinks does God!) Oddly, but perhaps obviously, there is the same zeal in both camps, one of righteousness, one of superiority, whether by espousing the virtues of rationality on one end or faith on the other. Both extremes are mind-based positions, which, due to the essential nature of the mind, means that they are also ego-centric positions. I. ME. MY POSSESSIONS. MY RELATIONSHIPS. MY BELIEFS (religious or scientific).
Gautam Buddha’s gift to humankind was to teach us a simple, powerful, transformative, transcendent and most importantly, PRACTICAL method to understand truth through the only medium we really have – the mass of vibrations that make up mind and matter – and constitute our bodies. Understand the truth through your OWN experience, he said. And the only gatekeepers of experience in our mind-matter confluences are the sensations of our bodies. Understand Truth through Experience. Understand Physics through Physicality!
Prince Siddhartha did not become a Sama Sambuddha (fully enlightened being) by taking a walk in the park. With each day’s passing, while the physical discomforts of sitting long hours or learning to focus in accordance with the technique became easier, the mind-body interface began to surface many, many other inexplicable feelings, sometimes exhilarating and at others extremely uncomfortable. Maintaining equanimity was not easy; feelings of despair and impulses to run away are common. Nothing I can say or write here can describe that experience. All I know is that by the 8th day, when the lunchtime gong rang while I was meditating, or someone else walked or sneezed around me, I distinctly felt my body vibrate in immediate resonance to these things. In those brief moments I knew – by direct experience – that there was no such thing as I, me or mine, as a distinct identity. I (or the mass of vibrations that was defining me at this moment in the apparent world) am perfectly and harmoniously connected with every other being and inanimate object around. Any action emanating from either them or from my mind-body continuum (yes, including my thoughts, which also have energetic vibrations) impacts everything else, in the here and now, with immediate effect. (Every action has a reaction, remember?) All that I see as people- or object-identities is Maya- an illusion, an apparent reality. All that I see as solid or permanent is constantly changing. And all that I am attached to in this moment is changed in the very next. Reality is nothing but a moment-to-moment manifestation of the law of nature, which is that everything that arises must pass, and every passing is followed by a new arising.
So if I were to sum up my experience and real-ization in 4 words, it would be this:
THIS TOO WILL CHANGE.
I have, of course, barely scratched the surface. The pursuit of truth and liberation from misery and suffering arising from our illusory minds is a lifetime’s practice, possibly spanning several lifetimes. For now, back in the material world, I am thinking: Dadubhai, wherever you are, you owe me a chunk of change. In fact, to be precise, you owe me 144 Rupees (Math: 10 days, 240 hours, 14400 minutes, 14400 paise, 144 Rupees). I might have requested you to accommodate inflation over the past 30 years, but 144 happens to be one of my favorite numbers. It is, after all, the smallest square that can also be written as a multiple in 7 other ways.
Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta
- On Mother's Day: A house for my parents - May 9th, 2010
- Thank you to Bloggermoms reviewers of Ten Avatars - April 25th, 2010
- What's your hotpocket? - April 15th, 2010
- My journey of writing ... to publishing - Emotions - March 1st, 2010
- My journey of writing ... to publishing - Inspirations - February 22nd, 2010