Soundtrack: Queen “I Want It All”
As promised, this is part 2 of my testimonial about my experience at a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat. I want to get into the theory behind the meditation technique and share my thoughts on it.
To quote the folks who oversee these meditation retreats:
“Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.
“Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.
“The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.”
This technique and tradition is rooted in the teachings of Gautama, the Buddha. In the discourses that are part of the retreat, there is a lot of discussion about the idea of the cycle of re-birth. In a nutshell, this theory is based on the belief that life is a thing of misery. That for most people, life is a constant stream of disappointments from desires not being fulfilled, or craving more and more of things that are pleasant, or running away from things which are unpleasant. Their belief is that every person who dies with any desires for anything is eventually born again in a different physical form with those same basic desires driving their behavior and thinking in the next life.
According to this tradition, the ultimate goal of life is to be freed from this cycle of re-birth and misery by achieving total enlightenment and therefore being able to stay in The Void. The Four Noble Truths according to the Buddha are:
- There is suffering.
- There is cause for suffering.
- There is cessation of suffering.
- There is path leading to the cessation of suffering.
I can’t agree with a philosophy of life that focuses on suffering as the primary quality of being alive. I acknowledge that suffering plays a significant role in human existence, however my focus is elsewhere. My craving for things that I don’t yet have or that I may never get, and my aversion to things I’ve experienced that I don’t like, is far outweighed by my pure Joy over being able to experience the beauty of Creation.
Any time I get to hear a beautiful melody or smell a flower or taste a wonderful dessert (especially bean pie) or look at a sunset or touch a beautiful woman — ALL of my suffering and disappointment is totally worth it. If you told me right now that I would never achieve my main goals in life but I get to listen to Michael Jackson and have sex everyday for the rest of my life, I will gladly take that deal! Sign me up for that shit. The beauty of being alive is indescribably wonderful and joyous.
I have absolutely no desire to be delivered from this cycle of rebirth. If the ultimate salvation is to exist in the spirit or non-material plane forever then I’ll pass. I’m cool with riding out this life of difficulty and striving for forever, forever ever, forever ever.
One of my favorite quotes from the great Napoleon Hill is “There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.” This explains one of my biggest philosophical differences with the ideology underlying the sect(s) of Buddhist thought which supports vipassana meditation. Their belief is that craving and aversion are the root causes of suffering, that these things multiply themselves and create more craving and suffering.
I agree that aversion is to be avoided. When one focuses on how much one doesn’t like something, it only feeds the existence of the thing which one doesn’t like. One great illustration of this is discovered by most people during the 10-day retreat. Most everyone experiences various aches and pains during the hour-long sitting meditations. And most everyone eventually came to learn that simply observing the pain without reacting to it causes the pain to eventually dull or go away completely. Only a small part of the pain is about what is actually happening inside the body. The vast majority of the torment that one experiences from the pain is really coming from the attention that one is showing to the physical sensation. If you can observe the sensation with equanimity, simply noticing that it is there and keeping in mind that it is not permanent, then it soon goes away. This same principle applies to anything we encounter in life that we don’t like.
However, desire for things that we want is a different story. It is true that a certain kind of craving can be harmful. If you focus on the idea of “wanting” a thing then you reinforce the message to the Universe that you “want” it, making it more and more difficult for you to actually “have” it. However, as Napoleon Hill points out, strong desire is the engine of achievement and evolution. Every “thing” that we enjoy was once an object of someone’s desire, from the car to the airplane to the shoe to the cell phone to the television. Someone had to first see that thing in their mind, desire for it to be real, and then believe in it so strongly that it became real for them. And eventually their physical reality came to match their mental picture.
Some people are ok with the idea of living in a world that never changes. That is the product of people not having desires. Things stay exactly the same from year to year and from generation to generation. Monasteries are like that. I choose not to live that way. I am very comfortable with having a burning desire for things and working hard to achieve them. I have no desire to be liberated from that situation.
The vipassana meditation technique, and meditation in general, are universally applicable. One doesn’t have to accept the underlying theory in order to enjoy the benefits of the technique. Increasing mindfulness and awareness is always a good thing, no matter what one’s motivation for doing it is. My personal reasons for increasing my mindfulness and practicing meditation are included in the entries of this blog and will be fully explained in my upcoming book, The Bliss Booklet. Stay tuned.