Modern life can be extremely stressful. The strain of dealing with multiple conflicting demands at work and home can be overwhelming. Each person copes with this stress differently. Some choose self-destructiveways such as tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Others may turn to counseling or psychiatric therapy. Many others are discovering the efficacy of meditation as an effective way of dealing with stress.
In response to this growing demand, a wide range of meditation courses is being offered worldwide. However, many people still feel uneasy about meditation and associate it with mysticism and esoteric cults. Among the various meditation techniques, Vipassana meditation is relatively unknown in the West because it is taught in ten-day residential courses and is not actively publicized.
Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique of India, which was discovered and taught by the Buddha. Its present teacher, Mr. S. N. Goenka, learned it in Burma (Myanmar). After his return to India in 1969, he started teaching Vipassana to his family, friends and acquaintances. Since then, in the last 40 years, Mr. Goenka and his assistants have conducted hundreds of Vipassana courses throughout the world.
Vipassana meditation has five special features:
1. No course fees
Vipassana is taught in ten-day residential courses but no fees are charged for the course. All expenses are sponsored by those who have already completed one or more Vipassana courses. At the end of the course, participants may give a donation to support future courses.
One significant benefit of this policy is that you can do the course with a feeling of humility and gratitude.
2. Base of morality
During the course, you have to abstain from killing, stealing, lying, intoxicants and sexual activity. Ethical behavior is the foundation of the practice of Vipassana. An unethical deed is like hurling a stone into a lake; it causes turbulence. As soon as you break any of the moral rules, the mind becomes disturbed and it becomes difficult to calm it.
During the first nine days of the course, you are instructed to observe complete silence and to avoid any communication with fellow meditators. However, you may communicate with the teacher about the meditation practice and with the management about any material needs.
The silent and peaceful course environment helps you to focus exclusively on the meditation practice. This protection from external distractions enables your mind to become progressively sharper and more sensitive.
4. Living in the present moment
On the first day, you are instructed to focus your attention on the breath entering and leaving the nostrils, without allowing any distraction to break the chain of awareness. You soon discover that this is not as easy as it appears. The mind is constantly distracted by past or future thoughts, memories, and fantasies. Each time this happens, you are instructed to smilingly bring your attention back to respiration. Gradually, you learn to focus the mind on the reality of the present moment and to overcome the distractible nature of the mind.
5. Practical application in daily life
On the last day of the course, you are taught how to integrate this simple but effective meditation technique in everyday life.
Whenever you are challenged by any person or event, the rhythm of the respiration changes; it becomes rapid or uneven. With practice, you learn to recognize this change in the rhythm of your breath and the resultant change in your mental balance. If you observe your respiration for a few moments, it regains its natural rhythm, and as a result, your mind regains its balance. Gradually, you learn to use this method to deal with any stressful situation.
In conclusion, the practice of Vipassana enables you to apply two key principles in daily life: to be aware of the present moment without reacting negatively to it and to accept responsibility for your present mental state without blaming anyone else.