Shanti greetings going out to all,

As I mentioned in my last journal, recently I undertook an amazing experience in Vipassana meditation.
Vipassana is believed to be one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. Once long lost to humanity, it was rediscovered by the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. The meaning of Vipassana is to perceive true reality through a process of self-observation and practicing Vipassana is believed to have led to the Buddha’s enlightened state of being.

Before beginning any studies, the law was laid out to us all. This was going to be true monastic living and there would be a strict code of discipline to be followed:
Each morning we would awaken at 4am to begin meditation in the main hall.
All students will maintain noble silence. That means no speech (I have ex-girlfriends who would tell you that would not be so difficult for me!), no sign language, no touch, no eye contact.
No-one is to leave the centre, there will be no contact with the outside world for the duration.
Physical exercise and practice of Yoga, although compatible with Vipassana, had to be suspended for this course.
We could only eat food from the dining hall (simple vegetarian and mostly bland) at designated meal times. There was breakfast and early lunch, but after midday it was tea, peanuts and fruits only.
No reading and writing, all books and journals were confiscated until the end of course.
No music, radio, cameras or any other sensual pleasures (whatever they may be).

One starts by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. This is a painstaking process of quietening all thoughts and seemingly endless commentarys that the mind produces. It is a true battle with your ego which doesn’t want to shut-up, it wants to be controlling, a steady stream of inane chatter, selective past memories and future daydreams.
Our group sat for the first 4 days, just trying to maintain focus on respiration, all attention fixed on the point of the nostrils where the breath enters the body. 10 hours of sitting upright in a darkened room with a simple objective – respiration and the awareness of the present moment.
The Vipassana theory is, with the development of this sharpened awareness, one proceeds to observe the chanting nature of the body and mind. Through the sensations of pain, pleasure, pressure, lightess and random thoughts/emotions that emerge and move on again, one experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness.

I will be honest and admit that the first days of the course felt like a living hell of physical pain and mental frustration. I kept asking myself,
“Why do this to yourself? This is a full 10 days of my journey in India, why don’t I just quit this place and head into the mountains again. Anywhere would be better than here. I can’t keep this up, my back aches, my knees hurt, I can’t sit still, this can’t be good”.
So this is what it’s like to do battle with ones ego. The ego wants to convince the higher self that it can assert itself at any time. But would I let it win? I had been warned of this cycle of thought and that steady patience will see it pass. Only then can the true benefits be reaped.

Then, sometime on the morning of the third day, I had a moment of inspiration that made me believe that not only was I going to make it through, but also receive a taste of truth-realisation.
While seated back at my cushion in cross-legged torture, my thoughts alternating between a dedicated internal focus and the idea of getting the hell out of there, I developed a sudden shift in consciousness. I had reached a dark void in my mind and felt detached from the heavy qualitys of the body that I have always been present and accepted by my naive awareness. Now, my consciousness observed a weightless, vibrating field of energy, a very peaceful and painless state of being. And then the session ended and I was back with my physical body again, yet I believe my outlook may have changed forever.
So, is our reality made of clusters of sub-atomic particles closely organised in rythmic patterns and vibrating at particular frequencies? On the back of that experience I can only say yes. Another step on the path to enlightenment.

On day four we began true vippasana meditation, observing the subtle sensations over every minute part of the body surface, developing a sense of energy movement much like a tingling free flow that gradually overrode all pain.
With continual focus over the following days I began to observe blockages in the free flow, areas of no sensation where I had to work with far more intent and patience until I observed subtle energy movement there. Often this was accompanied by some powerful emotions leaving my body. Anger, frustration, resentment, sadness – they were all in there just waiting to come out, and vipassana was the tool to achieve the release. Strong medicine indeed.
By the last days of the course I was completely absorbed in the practice and could sit for hours on end in complete stillness. And it felt so good, so shanti. I can now understand why people devote their lives to the clergy and monastic existence.
So the big question (at least the one my parents keep asking!) is – will I become a monk? Well, no. I still enjoy booze and fast women too much.
But I have now developed skills that have bettered me as a person and can take with me and use throughout my life.

As I draw towards the completion of my journey in India, I have chosen Rishikesh as the ideal place to gather my thoughts.
Rishikesh is a holy settlement on the banks of the Ganges river, close to its source in the Himalayan ranges so the waters remain clean and unpolluted. It is a colourful place with many bright Hindu temples, yoga ashrams, stoners and holy men getting around in loinclothes, dreadlocks and red spots on their foreheads. All surrounded by sub-tropical jungle and some beautiful sandy beaches on the riverside for cooling off in the holy waters.
There is also a lot of music in Rishikesh. Whether it’s singing from the temples, chanting from the ashrams or flute, tablas and sitar drifting from the guesthouses, these are the sounds that will always epitomise the culture of India for me.

Earlier today I had an incident with an innocent looking cow that was grazing alongside the roadway.
Now, first I must explain that cows are a very sacred animal to the Hindu faithful, and therefore are allowed to roam wherever the hell they want. Often they will block a roadway as they plod along and even lay down on the warm bitumen for a rest. No-one can force them to move and so they act like they really are holy beings and understand that they rule the place.
Anyway, I see this cow ahead turn to slowly approach me. No big deal, as most are quite used to existing in close and ambient contact with people. I usually enjoy giving them a pat and scratch behind the ear as I stroll past.
In the back of my mind I noted something a little unusual about this particular beast – the points of its horns had been cut and filed down. Still, I continued on my way until, within meters, it dropped its head and charged straight at me. Taking a cows horns in the thigh, even a blunt one, is a particularly painful experience, which in my country-bred mind requires swift retaliation. Just as I was about to take the bull by the horns (pardon the pun) and teach this beast a lesson in manners, I remembered where I was. To belt a cow amidst a holy community in India is a sacrilege that would have seen me mobbed and beaten. In order to keep the shanti of the place I had to quickly retreat over a nearby fence with an aggressive cow close on my heels and many smiles and laughter from the crowd of witnesses. Laughing myself (and limping!), I vowed to take my vengeance on the bovine race upon my return to Australia. Looking forward to a big, juicy steak…

Love, light and much happiness going out to all,

Paul

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Hi Mum and Dad

3 June, 2007

Hi Mum and Dad,  Everything is well with me, I’ve made a fast recovery from my stomach bug.
Lots of energy and a huge appetite again.  I think I was just adjusting to the India bugs. Today I went out for a walk after breakfast and just kept going and going. Hiked up to a ridgeline facing a glacier and the first line of the Himalayan range.

So close to the Himalayas
I’m staying at just under 2000 meters and hiked to maybe 2600 meters today. 
The scenery is amazing, much like what I remember from Switzerland.
Meeting many of the characters along the way was a highlight,  other travellers and the local mountain nomads with tea stalls along the trail and herders with goats,  yaks and donkeys all sharing the path. Whilst wildlife spotting I saw some huge mountain eagles and a mongoose.

I enjoy the serenity of the mountains and will spend quite some time here.

Many other travellers have given me ideas from their experiences and will follow their path. Everythings so cheap here,  my room is clean and comfortabe and costs about $4.50 Aus for the night and food is about $2 for a big meal. 
I am looking into some courses here in natural medicine and buddhist meditation.

I heard about Uncle J from Deb, very sad.

I also hear there has been good rain, I’m hoping it will be all green again when I come home.

Let me know if any mail,  bills,  etc. has arrived.

How is my daugther?  Is she becoming more friendly?  Tell her I miss her.

Love to you,

Paul