We are living through an epochal time in human history, the past 15 months like never before. For never before were entire populations of so many countries practically put under “house arrest” by a bizarre, sinister virus – a virus about which governments apparently know little or do not reveal what they know. At the centre of it all is the mind to cope with pandemics and problems. “Mind matters most” is a reality that matters most in such times when life is turned upside down.
Positivity not negativity helps us cope with resultant problems. Seeds sown this moment are fruits we reap later, just as we experience now fruits of seeds sown in the past. Since thoughts are seeds of actions, what arises in the mind matters most, every moment. “Moments that have passed are no longer real, only memory,” said my revered Vipassana teacher Sayagyi U Goenka (1924 – 2013), an extraordinary human being who served humanity by teaching Vipassana in its original purity.
“Similarly, moments yet to come are unreal; you can only have expectations, fears and hopes of the future.” Wise sages to successful sportsmen emphasize the need for the mind to be in the present moment. To live in the present moment is to live without fears of the future and painful or pining-full memories. But a mind rolling in random thoughts suffers anxiety, regret, anger, sadness, fear, craving and delusions. The wandering mind suffers more in stressful times such as in 2020 and 2021.
Training is needed to strengthen the mind, as with physical exercises for a healthy body. Between various mind-training methods available, we choose between genuine, beneficial practices and fraudsters selling “meditation” techniques and exploiting the gullible. Choose also between easy band-aids giving temporary surfacelevel relief, or the difficult surgery of the mind that cleans and heals the mind at the deepest, root level.
The saying “health is wealth” includes a healthy mind. In health of the mind, I never use the word “spiritual” because it tends to indicate removal from practicalities of daily life. The mental workout of daily meditation is as much needed as physical exercise. A healthy mind benefits daily life and life beyond. Thanks to word of mouth from people experiencing such benefits, more people than ever before in India and worldwide are daily practicing genuine mind-training methods or meditation practices.
In Europe for instance, Vipassana courses (www.dhamma.org) are fully booked online within minutes of the schedule being announced. More people from the corporate world are benefiting from meditation. First-time students in a beginner’s residential 10-day Vipassana course (taught free of cost) start by observing the in-coming and outgoing natural respiration as the object of meditation.
This practice called ‘Anapana’ is totally opposite to regulating the breath in pranayama. By using the natural breath – instead of short-cuts of using artificial objects of meditation such as regulating the breath or mantras – the mind becomes much sharper, more concentrated, subtler and purer at a deeper level. By the third day, the new student starts becoming aware of bodily sensations. Sensations are any tangible feeling – from gross sensations such as pain, throbbing, pressure, heat, cold, itching, to subtler sensations such as tingling, vibrations.
For the first time in life, we become consciously aware of the subtle biochemical flow within every moment, an electro-magnetic reality in the body every moment from our birth to death. Vipassana is the practice of the mind being aware of the deeper reality of sensations, with equanimity, from moment to moment. Why observe sensations? These bodily sensations are the core story of our life. The apparent reality is we react to the outside world, to seeing a beautiful form, hearing praise or criticism, touching, tasting something in the outside world.
But the Vipassana practitioner experiences the actual reality: how the mind reacts with craving or aversion to pleasant or unpleasant sensations. External situations are merely triggers. The real cause of our happiness or suffering is within – the intensity of blind reaction with craving or aversion to sensations.
The deepest part of the mind is continuously in contact with bodily sensations (as when even in deep sleep we rub a mosquito bite), not with objects of the outside world. What we call being in “a good mood” or “feeling bad”, happiness or sadness, attachment or addictions, is in reality reaction of craving or aversion to sensations. This is the inner reality we are ignorant of. Life changes with less ignorance to this reality. The Vipassana practitioner uses sensations – arising due to whatever cause – as tools to develop equanimity.
This is the middle path between blind reaction and suppression: objectively observe the reality, as it is, not as we prefer or imagine it to be. Then we can make wiser decisions with a more balanced mind. Harmful negative reaction turns to positive, beneficial action. Equanimity is real happiness. We gain life-changing experiential wisdom. By objectively observing rapidly arising, passing bodily sensations, we are in tune with the fundamental cosmic reality: impermanence.
The big ego and blind attachment to things and views gradually reduce. This is the universal subatomic reality ruling everything in the universe, an inescapable impermanence. No point developing attachment to what is impermanent, changing, arising, passing every moment. This is easy to understand but very hard to practice because the mind is conditioned to wandering, rolling in negativity.
But working patiently, persistently, the increasing awareness and equanimity to sensations – moment to moment – enables experiencing what is real happiness. We realize what matters most in life. “Be master of this present moment, and be master of your future,” said the fully enlightened super-scientist Buddha who re-discovered Vipassana. “You are your own master, you make your own future”.
(The writer is a senior Mumbai-based journalist)