Thursday, 19 June 2014

Vipassana Meditation at Bodhgaya

Bodhgaya Vipassana Centre was the place where I spent the next 10 days of this incredible adventure in India searching for answers within myself. My first introduction to this meditation technique was more than 8 years ago and it has definitely changed my life. At the time, I was depressed and confused about my direction in life. After a 10 day retreat in Switzerland, I saw the world from a different perspective and made some drastic changes such as starting a new life in Australia. Here are my reflections on this meditation technique. For more information please check the official website at www.dhamma.org.

Mahabodhi Temple
All of us seek happiness, peace and harmony in life yet very few seem to achieve this state. At times we all experience suffering, agitation or disharmony. Eventually we all must face death. The basic problem of life is its unsatisfactory nature. Sometimes things that we do not want happen in our lives, other times we fail to get what we want. So with all this dissatisfaction and suffering how can we live a happy life? 

Since birth, we are conditioned to pay attention to what is happening outside (external reality) yet we never care to know what is really happening within ourselves. A ten day Vipassana meditation course gives you a unique opportunity to explore the body and mind phenomena within the framework of your own self.

Vipassana means “insight into the true nature of reality”. It is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation and was found by Buddha in India more than 2500 years ago. Today, this non-sectarian technique is taught by S.N. Goenka around the world. 

Fellow meditators
The philosophy behind the Vipassana meditation is to ACCEPT the reality as it is and understand that CHANGE is happening every second in our lives. This awareness around constant change and the developed equanimity through practice helps us not to be devastated if something bad happens in our lives. Of course, we will be upset for a while but we will have the understanding that this situation will change sooner or later. On the other hand, when something wonderful happens in our lives, we will not develop craving or attachment towards it. We will enjoy it as long as it lasts with the wisdom that it will also end one day. The acceptance of this constant change helps us to deal with the ups and downs of life in a balanced way. Vipassana suggests that we can come out of our misery when we develop awareness and wisdom around change. Each experience we go through in life, pleasant or unpleasant, has the same characteristic of “IMPERMANENCE”.  Why develop attachment or hatred towards something that will sooner or later pass away?     

The intellectual understanding of this constant change however has to be experienced within the framework of body and mind which changes the habit pattern of our minds. This technique focuses on training and controlling the mind that seems almost impossible at the beginning. The task during the first three days is to observe the natural breath flow to develop mental concentration. Although it sounds quite simple, once started, the restless mind seems to be racing from past memories to future anticipations without any logical thought sequence. For me, it was very hard to observe my breath even for a minute without being distracted by thoughts, day dreams, memories and self-talk. I relate to Goenka’s analogy of comparing the mind with a wild monkey jumping from one branch to another continuously. This seems to be the habit pattern of our minds: constantly travelling between the past and the future but never want to stay in PRESENT.

At the end of the third day, my mind was a lot calmer and I was able to observe my breath for extended time periods. The Vipassana meditation starts on the fourth day and involves focusing on the body sensations. Although most people expect some nirvanic peace and harmony, the insights gained by self-observation are not likely to be all pleasant or blissful. Well, you might ask how something like observing your bodily sensations will help you to become an awakened person. This comes through developing AWARENESS and EQUANIMITY. 

After long hours of meditation, the mind gets sharper to pick up any sensation that is happening at that moment within different areas of the body. The next step is not to react to these sensations but to observe them objectively, by being non-judgmental with the understanding of the law of “impermanence”. Of course, it is difficult not to react to some of these sensations such as intense pain due to long hours of sitting still. However, soon you reach a state when you realise that any sensation including severe pain disappears sooner or later and another sensation comes up.  The idea behind this practice is to accept the reality as it is, not as you would like it to be.  

Bodhi Tree
How many times in life were you stuck in situations when unwanted things happened which caused you pain and suffering? Well, here you train your mind to accept the pain with the wisdom that sooner or later it will pass. 

Moreover, how many times have you craved for things which did not happen and you felt disappointed, sad or even depressed? Everything around us and in the universe is constantly changing including our physical body, thoughts, emotions and feelings. Through practice of Vipassana, you experience this constant change within the framework of your own body and mind and realise how attachments to different things, whether material or immaterial creates nothing but misery. If we can develop an understanding of this constant change and accept that nothing in life is permanent, we can end dissatisfaction and misery in our lives and reach a state of happiness.

In a consumerist economy, we are constantly influenced to buy new things whether we need them or not. We are under the impression that if we make certain amount of money, have a better job or a bigger house, then we will be happy. Unfortunately, it is never enough. We are always on the run to get something better, nicer, or bigger but we rarely show gratitude for what we already have. Maybe it is time to shift our focus from the external to internal reality before we destroy the whole world with our greed. Each one of us can make a difference with our choices. 

This technique helps me to live a happier life. Although I still react to the misfortunes of life, I seem to have a calmer and more balanced mind. We are responsible for the reactions that cause our suffering. By accepting this responsibility we can learn how to eliminate it.   

My experience during those 10 days was volatile. It was a journey of bliss, gratitude, anxiety, doubt and worry. I had doubts about the technique and questions around what I was doing there. The mind plays all kind of tricks to stop you when you penetrate deeper into the subconscious. At the end of the course, I felt happy, joyful and light. I also met many wonderful people both from India and all around the world. After the course, we made a trip to the Maha Bodhi temple and meditated together under the Bodhi tree like Buddha did many years ago. To find out more on mindfulness, please check my website "Conscious Beginnings

Shopping with friends
In Bodhgaya, I stayed in an ashram with some friends, Yorgos, Marc and Silver, whom I met during the retreat. After lunch and a great chai, we organised our permits to stay in the Mahabodhi temple overnight with the hope of enlightenment. We rented some mosquito nets where we could sleep in or meditate without getting eaten alive by hungry mosquitoes. Malaria exists in India, so nets are highly recommended.

There were about 8 of us meditating/sleeping under the sacred Bodhi tree, including two Vietnamese nuns who were reflecting pure love and joy. After a couple of hours of meditation, I fell asleep. Was I enlightened in the morning? Maybe not quite there yet but it was an enlightening experience.

After a nice cold shower in the ashram and breakfast with Marc and Yorgos, it was time to say goodbye to my friends and to this sacred land. The next adventure was waiting for me at the Bihar School of Yoga.


  1. Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for your comment Sheb, glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I can't wait for the next story. Thanks Jon for sharing your adventure.

    1. Thank you for your comment Ginny, I post one episode each week, so you don't have to wait too long. Best wishes.