This is a continuation of the previous post, though it can be read independently as well. In the previous one, I made an attempt to provide the context of Vipassana in my life. In this post, I will be talking less about the benefits and more about why Ive found my peace with this technique. The primary reason is the absence of dependency on faith, god, religion or an institution in the very procedure of this method. This sounds harsh already, so let me clarify that this post is in no way a criticism of faith or faith-based institutions, as you will soon see that I actually keep experiences based on faith at a very high bar. Firstly, a brief intro to Vipassana for starters from the previous post before I jump into the subject.

Id say that its a mindfulness technique and a method of self-observation and self-inquiry where you allowyourself to observeyour physical and mental being. To pursue this, the common technique includes dedication of focus in ones breath, sensations of the body, thoughts and emotions. The typical lotus posture that we see in pictures of many monks is the way to go. Though it is a technique in itself, its also commonly known for its retreats or camps, typically a week or ten days long (or months) and is hosted by several institutions. Silenceis taken quite seriously in many of these camps and most of them disallow any form of verbal communication throughout. Nevertheless, the features of this method are dynamic, so it wouldn’t be entirely correct to regard the above explanation as the ‘only way’ to pursue this.

This post is much rather an explanation of a feature of Vipassana, and how that compares with several other meditative techniques which involve ‘faith’ to a degree.  Vipassana too is popularly credited with Buddhism, and Siddhartha Gautam is considered to be the one who introduced this concept to his disciples. But I am going to make a distinction between this technique and many others since the practice itself doesnt require one to be Buddhist or have any devotion towards Buddha. Devotion is neither a requirement nor a recommendation. To illustrate this further, before I dig deeper into Vipassana, I must talk about ‘faith’ first.

For a brief period in my life, Ive actually been an insider on the subject as well as the practice of faith, and I have seen experiences of people ranging from mild benefits to even transformative experiences. The latter is one that I am most interested to talk about here. While collectively, the subject of faith is debatable in many ways, individually, I cant deny the tremendous sense of meaning and purpose that people feel in the presence of faith. I also hold a well-argued opinion, that is, I do think that a faith-less world will need to find an alternative for it, to sustain a general sense of meaningin life for the collectivepopulation. Ive intentionally placed the word collectivehere, as I think theres a substantial population that can do fine even in the absence of it, the evidence of which is all around us.

I understand that a comprehensive analysis of faith can very well be an open invitation to heated arguments, but I must say that for one to practice faith, one must believein something, and engagewith that belief. Thats exactly where my discomfort lies in terms of meditative practice. How can I believe in something when Im making active attempts to question inherent beliefs? How can I assume something to be true when the basis is neither science nor personal certainty? How can I devote myself to something without being sure about it? These questions in themselves are ones I dont have an answer to, and science too is more than incomplete to decide on various issues. Therefore, a path of assumed certainty isnt a fulfilling approach for me. These are also big questions in themselves. So a more skeptical pathway is one where I fit in more. Perhaps because the former approach invites the risk of thinking that I know something, without actually knowing it— either it is believing that theres a deity that is looking after me, without having certain grounds to establish that in the first, or believing in supernatural force for the same reason. Though Id say I am in no way a denier of metaor larger than lifeideas, I just feel that the risks of those beliefs are too high for me while engaging in the objective of Vipassana in its literal translation, that is, seeing things as they really are.

It should be known that the meditation camps/programs in general cant exactly be categorized as either Faith-based or Vipassana. That would be inaccurate at all levels. Many programs of institutions that I have been to dont identify themselves as faith-based institutions, and only have a mild approach to believing in something, be it a godly figure or supernatural forces of nature. And even besides Vipassana, there are numerous programs that have absolutely no association with faith even to the slightest of degrees. So I must readdress that I am talking specifically about meditativeprograms, and though there are many whose approaches dont mandate devotion, even the suggestion of it is something I have distanced myself with. And they usually do have an element of believing in something assumed to be powerful—be it visible or invisible.

Theres more though. Ive seen people dance for hours without a break response and every bit of them filled with immense joy; people healing from mental troubles through deep trust that their savior is providing them the energy to get better, people overcoming the loss of their loved ones believing that its all a part of a divine plan, people stare at a blank wall and be filled in with tears of gratefulness towards god for how beautiful the idea of creation is. Ive seen them be in love with life, and radiate the same love to others with kindness. As easy as it may sound, many people put in a tremendous level of discipline in their daily rituals, from waking up early, to following instructions from their teacher/guru exactly as expected, abstaining from eating certain forms of food, traveling to spiritual destinations, spread the message to people, join in prayers or even refrain from speaking certain content—all of these are in no way easy. Anyone who has lived in a largely religious country or visited faith-based institutions would be able to visualize all this quite well, from peoples efforts to their experiences. Certainly, peoples experiences of Godisnt a logical justification for the existence of God, as personal spiritual testimonies are always questionable in practical terms. But thats not the main thesis here. I am making a claim that it cannot be denied that faithin itself is a powerful medium, perhaps more powerful than most spiritual mediums out there. Im sharing this not only because Ive seen this in close proximity, but because theres a part of me that envies the magnitude of emotions that people are able to feel when they have strong faith and go through their rituals in all levels of trust and belief. And these, exactly these benefits, are ones that I am willing to sacrifice, and painfully so, for the pursuit of Vipassana, for exploring reality completely through independent practice and dissecting beliefs rather than strengthening them.

On the other hand, Vipassana generally isnt funor a feel goodprocess in itself. It brutally demands one to prioritize needsover wants. I crave rewards that people get on a personal level in presence of strong faith, but the need of seeing things they really are, for me, is an invitation to a different form of practice. Even ones with faith, if need be, in this practice, must be willing to challenge their existing beliefs. Eliminating illusion is a step closer to reality, for which wantsmust be overridden with needs.

I wantto reduce pain without having to experience it, but I needto see the pain the way it is, for me to understand it.

I want’ to feel a tremendous sense of clarity, but I need to knowif it comes from a strong basis.

I wantto believe that there is something out there that is protecting me, but I needto go through a process to be able to believe or disbelieve it.

I wantto believe that my prayers can be heard, but I need’ to be open to the idea that they have no supernatural strength.

I want, and I wish, that there is something larger than life, but I need’ to know before I sell my soul to it. 

When I enrolled in a Vipassana camp, I was provided with some basic instructions. The monk help me with the required posture and asked me to watchmy breath as it goes up and down. He told me to be watchful of any thought or sensation that appears in the mind or the body. Thats pretty much it. For a 12 days program, an orientation as short as that must have felt like a scam for many.

In the camps I went to, we had an individual experience-sharing session every morning in presence of a monk. Anyone who pays attention to their thoughts for a while can see at least some patterns, and I was curious about what they mean, or what more should I do to understand them further. For any question on that line, the answer was always the same in the counseling session, that is, just observe your thoughts and bodyand some of it was a recap of the same orientation. It didnt feel right, and even to this day, theres a part of me that feels the same. But thats where the spirit of this technique lies in. How much more neutral can a technique be? It is independent of not just faith, but most ideas in general. Giving ideasis frowned upon here, rather, it prioritizes reducing the unnecessary ones. In a nutshell, you are left alone with yourself to just watch, and surprisingly, once you do that long enough, you slowly start eliminating the tricks of your mind and start seeing things clearer than before.

As I look back, that was useful; very useful. It left me all alone to observe what needed to be observed. Vipassana, as it seems, appears to be less of a practice that provides us direct answers, as much as it is a way to show us things by eliminating personal biases, providing us a much clearer picture, and what we make of it is up to us.

In my previous post, I made a claim that one of the hardest things to do is to separate reality from illusion. Its not only hard, but I think it’s also very risky. We love our fantasies. We love to believe in stories. We create fiction and live our fiction. We dream of a better life and allow our dreams to pave way for the future. We imagine unreal things just to make us happy and share them as stories for others to join the same thought-club. For what its worth, theyre beautiful. Vipassana, however, might as well be a medium for us to rise above that biological urge to keep creating stories and fantasies; to watch them as our mind produces them on auto-pilot. This may sound unimportant and purposeless. So this might as well be a weird paragraph to be pressing a bold statement. But here we go—I think one of the highest pursuits in life is to be able to rise above illusions. I think it will take me a long post, and perhaps, several failed attempts to be able to clarify what I think are illusions, partly because in order to explain what are illusions, I have to be able to explain what is realityand I dont think I can do that. But I think Ill try and make an attempt to explain what I think illusion can stand in definition in one of the future posts.

Right now, I shouldnt deviate from the crux of this post. I think silent meditation in the form of Vipassana is an answer for ones who are interested in spiritual experiences, but are seeking a non-religious and non-faith based approach. Its clear all around us that more and more people are living a less or non-religious lifestyle, and Vipassana and similar forms of neutral meditative practices that are independent of faith can serve as an incompletereplacement for a faith-driven world. If youre reading this, I genuinely thank you for your time and Id be delighted to hear from you.

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