Thursday, 21 January 2016

10-day Vipassana Meditation Course

This Vipassana course, although the same word for word as the three previous ones that I have completed, has made a deeper effect on my mind than the previous ones. All religions, as well as humanism and atheism, tell us how we should live and behave, yet all fail to tell us how to do it!  The answer is in our minds. The Vipassana technique, which can traced all the way back to the Buddha, 2,500 years ago.  Unlike other meditation methods, which focus on an image, flower, or sound, like a mantra, are a barrier to getting into the mind, a sort of Gestalt, as I see it, figure and ground, the mind cannot focus on two things simultaneously. Like multi tasking, which is impossible with the way our minds are wired. Focusing on the respiration of the in and out breath onto and a very small area on the upper lip. Just follow the breath with equanimity feeling the light brush of the in and out, the out being warmer. The first three days of the course are spent in learning to do just that, when one is able to do this one finds that the mind is still. The ego has gone, dissolved. No monkey mind whizzing about, moving unscripted back and forth. He said
this, she said that. the anger, the frustration, the desires, the aversion. The length of stillness increases, with resolute determination, to see things as they really are. No room for protection of the ego, as it is no longer present. In this state of the present there is no fear, grasping, the future, the past, no anger, no misery, no wanting. Look at what is within, not at the source. This practice has enabled me to see that politics was devouring my time, my mind, my life. I have now decided to get a life and have renounced it. It was only by using this method that it enabled me to reach this conclusion. A few other changes have also been made. Oh, and it is silent, no talking for 10 days, just listening. Men and women are totally separated for the whole period.

There are two further things to add. Firstly, the excruciating pain suffered by sitting still for an hour without moving. Sore bum, aches in joints, numbness, stiffness, itchiness, these are  to be ignored. Grim, yet one has to keep ones equanimity. Secondly, the mental gymnastics required to scan the body systematically for feelings, while ignoring unwanted ones. The concentration required is exhausting. By the time I went to bed every night at 21.30 I was exhausted. This is the hardest thing I have ever done. When you loose it you return to respiration to get restarted.

The Pagoda

The daily timetable

My cell for 5 hours a day

Cell doors in a curved row

Group Meditation Hall. Men blue, women fawn seats

Dining area

Utensils rack above the sinks

Breakfast on a plate

The fact that there is no reading materials, phone, camera, or other distractions. These are all handed in at the beginning. It is the first time I have had a cell, which was in the Pagoda. Just a small foam mat to sit on. A steel door, no windows. Only students who have done earlier courses get this option. Five hours a day in here and 4 hours with the group sitting with accompanying instructions. It was all so austere. Marble floors, no shoes indoors. No heating, wash from a plastic bucket. An eating area like something out of a prison movie. Steel eating plate, bowls and a spoon. A vegan diet of two meals a day. 19 hours between the last meal until breakfast time. 

Below is a  link to an account of the experience by a Russian lady. She did not use the Pagoda as it was her first course.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Bikaner and the Rat Temple

Rajasthan is the poorest of India's states. Most of the marble that is used on floors throughout the country is mined in the state, as well as much of its precious stones. It has an outpost feel, is a vibrant and dust swirling desert town. An enlightened leader gave sanctuary to 250,000 Moslem refugees in the bloodbath that followed India's partition in 1948. Earlier it had turned its fortunes around briefly by hiring out camels to the British in an earlier disastrous war in Afghanistan. Its fort is richly furnished and well worth a tour. Compact market with stalls of veg and fruit, spices ect.

  The fascinating "Temple of Rats" is an hour away by bus. Its resident population of holy rats is not for the squeamish. There is always the potential of having your ankle nipped, or have one drop on you from above. It is temple is part of  a reincarnation myth. Thousands flock there to worship, give gifts and pray. Because no one else was anxious I managed to walk around without getting into a panic. The devotion that was observed shocked me.

                                                                  Bikaner Fort

                                                         Ornate interior of the fort

                                               Large wooden hall set on marble flagstones

                                                         Old merchant's houses (havelis)

                                                                  Bikaner Market

                                                                         Jain temple

                                                                      Jain Temple

                                                              Altar in the Rat Temple

                                                         Devotees queuing to worship

Friday, 1 January 2016

Camel Safari

I took an overnight train to Bikaner, Rajasthan, which is on the Pakistan border within the Thar Desert. The first thing I noticed, besides the desert sands and dryness, was the lack of colour, as everything is covered in dust and sand, giving a bleached, colourless, landscape in the city and countryside.
    I fixed up a trip into the desert with two dromedary camels, they have one hump and are the largest of the species.They stand about 6ft 6ins at the shoulder. I had a guide /cook and a trailer carrying the camping gear, food, water etc. The large wheel trailer was interesting because it had old aeroplane tyres on its wheels, which have a round profile and are far easier to pull with far less friction than conventional car tyres.
   I joined the safari at a village in the desert. Once I got the stirrups at the right length it was a gentle swaying to and fro motion, but unlike riding a horse, the neck could not be seen, a little like riding the Lock Ness monster, with the neck curving down and finishing up as a small head about 6 feet ahead of me. The smooth, large feet were soundless on the sand, the only sound was the jingle of little bells affixed to the front legs. These camels live for about 40 years and can go over a week without water.
   Standing up and setting down is when I had to hang on tightly by gripping tightly to avoid being pitched forward, or off the back.
   The absolute silence of the desert was so peaceful and the making of the fire as the temperature dropped quickly. A shawl on my back while gazing into the fire watching the meal being cooked. The highlight is the sleeping on my back gazing up at the star studded heavens, with no light pollution, staying snug from the cold breeze inside my sleeping bag. Later, the next morning, it was quite magical to go at a trot. One seemed to glide along in silence, looking down and seeing the massive feet touching the sand like a big flat sponge compressing to take the shock.