2016年9月22日星期四

Vipassana Meditation Part III: The Obstacles

Before we left the meditation center, our teacher Vijaya told us that we should practice at least half an hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. Another former student, a middle aged Indian uncle, chimed in and said at least one hour is necessary to keep up the practice. He came to a meditation retreat a long while ago and stopped altogether. Coming back to it was very difficult for him. At that time I was excited to come back to the real world and share my experiences; I was not so hung up on the advice because I knew once everyone leaves the place, challenges will occur and excuses not to meditate would come by easily. Challenges to the practice already existed inside the well-organized albeit temporary meditation center.

I constantly wanted to write during my meditation hours. I managed to sneak and write a few short notes when I could not hold back, although it was against the rules. I also got bored sometimes even when the electric tingling experience was "happening." Instead, I would reminisce the films I watched before. Italian classic Cinema Paradiso was particularly vivid and when the explosion of the cinema happened in my head, the tingling also intensified surreptitiously. A fellow meditator exclaimed on the last day that she also had replays of Sesame Street songs or unpleasant film scenes.

I recounted these experiences to a friend of mine, a Chinese monk. He also knew before that people's memory becomes extremely sharp during meditation, even in traditions other than Vipassana. He recounted an urban legend: a guy who used to be a butcher terminated his trade and followed the Buddhist path. During a silent group meditation sitting in a temple, he shouted "Ahh!!" Everyone looked at him. Apparently, he remembered how someone short-changed him in exchange for the pork he sold a long time ago. I could definitely relate to these aha moments, although luckily none of my memories were as regretful (e.g., "I should have caught that person who short changed me!"). I also have similar issues nowadays while practicing at home. 

Aside from the neuro-challenges during meditation, one long term obstacle to the practice has been the cultural baggage. I don't want to be seen as someone "looking for a trip," in the words of Goenka, but then to be "committed" to yoga, meditation and/or some other practic has also been tough. Although no one has ever criticized me for testing the waters, I project these judgments at times. Goenka's reassurance has helped settle down some of that baggage.


JNU at dusk, usually the time when people come out to exercise
Politics has also come into the list of challenges to meditation. When I exchanged in JNU, Delhi, the dominant attitude among the Left was to frown down upon certain activities related to the Hindu pantheon. Yoga day was recently introduced by the Modi government and that would obviously be taken up as an issue, since many of the minorities who don't want to bow to the sun. I would sometimes see a person meditating by the tracks under the tree. I wondered when I would ever have the confidence to do that in public. The politics veered towards an automatic, reflexive bent--when the Paris attacks happened, I would overhear a person in JNU my age explaining to his parents (who were strolling with him) about the hypocrisy of the Western world--"no one mourned for [x country] when [y number] of people died!" I was emboldened when I heard it at first, since it reflected my views as well. But sometimes this attitude could become a dogma as well, especially in regards to spirituality. Anything with an "om" becomes the agenda of the Hindutva or Brahminical. My friend Amit, who meditates, also agreed with me on this point. He thought that more JNU students could benefit from meditation. In other words, we all have the obstacles we created on an intellectual level.



One of the rare Hindu events on campus that I attended--Kali Puja
On the other hand, one can also see how meditation can be difficult in a casteist society even if the programs are offered free of cost to all participants (They are sponsored by previous students' donations). When asked by Linda about caste and Buddhism, I said that if one is used to being an outcast, it would be very difficult for him or her on a psychological level to even enter a space that offered Vipassana in India. But that I have yet to corroborate with research. Someone should research on the challenges posed by caste on the Vipassana revival in India! 


Paradoxically, I gained the courage and motivation to treat meditation seriously at JNU, even when I didn't pick up the practice then. My friends here, such as Yogesh, were committed to social issues but also incorporated meditation in their lives. Yogesh would often suggest that I meditate as a way to concentrate on my studies and offered rewards, as if I was in his class as a student. He was a good mentor during difficult times. Alas, other cravings were stronger at the time. Still, I managed to meditate again despite the challenges. I could even say that the challenges helped me look inward: I was in the happiest and liveliest place in India, yet suffering was still all around. Turning inward was indeed an answer, even months after I had left.

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