Vipassana : As I Experienced It (Part-IV)
– By Ranjeet Chowdhury
In the last part of this write-up, I had observed that the common objective of all the three meditation techniques I had discussed was to attain a state where we’re in complete unbroken awareness of our body – a state which was required to bring equanimity/ composure to our body enabling it to lead us to higher dimensions of life and beyond. Further, the effort we make to meditate is only a very tiny step forward towards opening of a whole world of infinite possibilities and the physical and mental well-being we experience during the process is the smallest reward we could have out of this small effort. I concluded with a question – what’s the larger objective then; what’s the ultimate goal we aspire to achieve through meditation?
In my quest for answers, I realized that the ultimate goal of meditation is to go beyond our physical boundaries; connect ourselves to the source and to reach to a state where we become aware of our samskaras and past karmas. Our ultimate goal is to break the cycle of samskara preventing it from creating more karma and thereby achieve emancipation.
Now, the question arises whether it’s really possible to revisit our past lives and to see the karmas of our previous births; and whether observing our past karmas could actually free us from their burden thus breaking the cycle of samskara which leads us to the ultimate goal of our lives – to become a liberated soul.
I somewhat found the answers to my queries in Paulo Coelho’s ‘Aleph’ which I had read on the suggestion of my daughter last year. In his autobiographical account, Paulo, faced with a crisis of faith and spiritual stagnation, sets off on a long journey through the Trans-Siberian railroad at the behest of his mentor, referred to as ‘J’, seeking the path of spiritual growth.
During his journey of self-discovery, the protagonist, an acclaimed writer, meets a young violinist Hilal, who insists on accompanying him on the journey. In the train Paulo discovers their past life connection looking into the eyes of Hilal being in the ‘Aleph’ a place where time and space converge. They become aware of an act of betrayal committed by Paulo in a different incarnation some five hundred years ago against Hilal, the woman he loved. The effect of this act of betrayal was so far reaching that it prevented both of them from finding real happiness in their subsequent lives. They re-visit their past life together through ‘Aleph’ and Hilal absolves the writer of his act of cowardliness which resulted in her painful death in the past life. This act of forgiveness liberates both of them from their past.
As I said, Paulo’s story helped me finding answer to an important question – how being aware of our past karma helps us breaking the cycle of Samskara and becoming a liberated soul? Both, Paulo’s deep seated feeling of guilt and Hilal’s anger, fade away when they revisit their previous incarnation together and observe the events of their past life objectively. Revisiting the past was not going to change anything of that period, but watching the events objectively gave Paulo and Hilal the insight that all things happened precisely as they were meant to be; and this realization changed everything in their present life. Hilal absolved Paulo of his cowardly act and they both become free of the burden of past they were carrying all through their later incarnations.
In ‘Aleph’ Paulo describes the technique he uses to know about his past lives; but before I go into that, I would like to share the thoughts I was having while practicing Vipassana at Igatpuri. In fact, I was finding it very difficult to keep my attention at a particular place for long enough to feel any sensation and my attention was constantly racing through my body at full tilt; and at that speed, my mind was taking every ‘break in the continuity’ as obstacles.
I need to explain here what I mean by ‘break in the continuity’. While scanning our body by touching every bit of our physical being mentally, we need to break the flow constantly while shifting our attention from one stretch of body part to another; from front portion of the body to back etc. For example, we start by placing our attention at the top of our head and then slowly bring our attention down patch after patch to forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks, upper lip, lower lip, chin upto our throat-pit; and then before going further down, we again put our attention back to our head (this time at the top back side of our head) and start sliding our attention down through rear side upto the back of our neck. Similarly, while rolling our attention down from our throat pit down we stop the process at the lower abdomen and return to the back of our neck and roll our attention down through the backside of our torso till our attention reaches the lower back. This is what I meant by the ‘break in the continuity’ I mentioned above and this is what was bothering me.
To overcome this, my mind soon started imagining a ring of light (like a large halo) encircling my body horizontally and moving up and down from the top of my head to my base. The ring was working much like a body-scanner and I could feel the light of the ring touching all parts of my body within its circle simultaneously as it was passing through.
Back to ‘Aleph’, as I mentioned, Paulo talked about a method using which he could revisit his past life. It was a ‘ring of light’ encircling his body and moving rapidly between head to toe, taking him to his past incarnation. I recognized this ring of light as similar to the one I had imagined while practicing Vipassna at Igatpuri (much before I came across Paulo’s ‘Aleph’, of course). I immediately connected the ring mentioned in ‘Aleph’ to the body-scan method of meditation and I was happy to have realized the utility/ significance of this technique of meditation in our spiritual progression. It struck me that this was the very ‘ring’ which could take us to our past lives; let us see our past karma and to help us out to become a liberated soul.
I was, however, wrong to have started imagining that ‘ring of light’ to scan my body instead of adhering to the instructions given and striving for stillness of mind and complete awareness of my body. Back home, I came to realize that this was another reason for my utter failure in achieving anything significant during the 10-day Vipassana course at Igatpuri. I realized that, to let this ring work in the desired manner, we must first be aware of every bit of our body; and I must not have bothered about the continuity of the body-scanning process at all and should’ve worked on attaining a state of complete physical awareness first.
Concluding my instant write up, I would only say that to know the ‘unknown’ you have to start with what is ‘known’ – what you are familiar with and that “watching is the key”. You have the ‘body’ and you have the ‘breath’ – watch them; just watching would lead you to every secret this Universe holds including the ultimate truth – “you are not in this world, the world is in you”.