Get ready for Vipassana!

Remembering Here&Now

Fatima, with her startling humour, comments on our meditations. This month we start with ‘Vipassana’

“Get ready for Vipassana,” a voice hissed into the mike in Buddha Hall.  A sibilant hiss as gas escaping from a leak.  Ssssssssss.  “Now what is this Vipassana?”  I wondered to myself.

“Vipassana is sitting silently and watching your breath!” clarified the voice. I suppressed some titters.  Watching something you cannot see?  Funny indeed.

“Vipassana is Gautam Buddha’s meditation.  He attained to enlightenment by watching his breath.”

In a flash I folded up my titters and thrust them under the cushion I was sitting on.  This was getting to be serious. If the Buddha could watch something invisible and reach to such heights, I could do ditto and reach at least to the first rung of the ladder.  It thrilled me to know that my elevation was just a few breaths away!  A gong reverberated through the still air.  As its last echo died, a hush enveloped Buddha Hall.  And I got down to the serious business of catching my breath.  For a start I pressed my thumb hard over the navel but met with no luck.  I slid an inch right, an inch left.  Still no sign of a breath.  And nothing breathtaking had happened in the last few minutes!  But my determination did not wane.  I was bent on locating the truant and arresting it under my thumb.  A desperate search later I did feel some throbs halfway between the rib cage and navel.  And quickly thumbed them down.

But the voice had instructed us to watch the journey of the breath.   From navel up to throat down.  Reluctantly I released my thumb and off went the absconder pulse.  And off went I on its chase.  Within seconds I caught it near the aorta and started to watch its downhill journey.  First it crept, then crawled.  Tiptoed down to the abdomen.  And with one big leap landed under the navel.  A while later it popped back.  Skipped, hopped, slithered like an eel and hid under the sternum. Then step by stealthy step it walked up to the throat and lay there panting with exhaustion.  I shed a tear for poor Gautam Buddha for spending a good half of his life watching this hop, skip and jump.  Could he not find a smoother path to his lofty goal?

Opening an eye to a slit I checked my watch.  Only five minutes had gone.  Leaving me forty more of the breath’s antics.  Yawn.  Talk of my genius for getting into tight corners.  While I was chastising myself the breath slinked away.  But I did not go on its trail, deciding instead to wait at the navel and nab it the moment it showed up.   Through the wait my mind wandered.  Got enlaced in cobwebs of a hassled morning. That ogling pest of a manager in my hotel.  The rickshaw driver cheating on the fare.  The toothy laundress with her acerbic remarks.  The street in unanimous disapproval of my colours. If you are an orange or saffron or a maroon sight in Pune you are a species apart. “A follower of Rajneesh.” To be duped, fleeced, taunted and abused.  Before I could go further with my grouse, I felt a light tap on my head.  A gentle reminder from the co-ordinator to come back to the meditation.  Again I went on the hunt for my breath.   And found it docile, ticking faintly under my navel.  I humbled it further by pressing my thumb and putting it in its place.  In a few minutes the gong announced the end of Vipassana.

The great meditation that had led Gautam the Buddha to the highest regions of consciousness led me straight to the ashram’s restaurant, Vrindavan.  Famished and eager for a lusty bite into my favourite, crisp croissant.  To be washed down with sips of the heavenly, spiced tea only the ashram is capable of.  With tray in hand I started to look around for a table.  The only possible one had a blonde Ma sitting at one end facing an unoccupied chair. Young and plump, she wore a look that waivered between joy and resignation.  Must be a victim of Vipassana like me, I thought.  Eager to compare notes, I deposited myself in the vacant chair and looked hopefully at her.

“I am a Belgian,” she broke the ice with a faint smile.  And lost no time in pouncing upon Vipassana. “It is difficult to keep oneself in this meditation.  I am struggling with it.”

How did she guess I was a fellow sufferer?   Must have spotted me inside the Buddha Hall.

“Both my breath and my mind wander ceaselessly.   The breath has a limited area to be naughty in.  Just the stomach and chest.   But the mind swings undaunted between Pune and Brussels,”  she complained.

By comparison my mind should be respected for staying within its geographical limits. And not harbouring any overseas ambitions.

“But we have to keep trying.  I am sure we will reach somewhere,” she assured me. I, for one, do want to reach somewhere sublime.  Somewhere higher than the gastronomical low of Vrindavan.

As I got up to leave the Ma gave me her last joy-plus-resignation look and said, “Come for the next meditation.”

“Sure I will.”

And sure as hell I will.  I cannot wait to know which part of me I would be made to watch next!

Copyright © 2010 Fatima

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