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Fascinated I watch Goenka as he speaks to us via video on this first evening of the ten-day Vipassana training. I sit on a meditation cushion at the very back of the large Dhamma Hall of the Vipassana Center in Belgium and look around at almost a hundred other people.


'Nothing is more difficult than to deprive yourself of what you are attached to. Every alcoholic knows that alcohol is not good for him and yet he cannot stay away from it, every person knows that you should not kill another human being, and yet murders take place every day. And don't think this has nothing to do with you, oh no! So many people live in misery and want so badly to be different and despite this desire, just as many people create misery again and again, day in and day out. You are here as a student and have agreed to submit to a ten-day training to stop the wheel that is trapping you so that you can escape misery and create a life of peace and harmony.’


Goenka remains silent for a moment, looks around slowly and deliberately, and then continues. ‘Everyone is looking for peace and harmony because these are missing in our lives. We all feel restless, irritated, out of balance, and miserable at times. And when we feel restless, we do not limit it to ourselves but we continue to transmit this unpleasant feeling to others. Unrest permeates the atmosphere around the miserable one. Anyone else around such a person comes into contact with also becomes irritated and restless. This is definitely not the right way to live. To be delivered from our unrest, we must know the actual cause of the unrest, the cause of that misery. When we examine the problem it quickly becomes clear that whenever we develop something negative, an impurity in the mind, we are bound to become restless. A spiritual impurity, a mental defilement, cannot coexist with peace and harmony. How do we develop such negativity? We become very unhappy when we notice someone behaving in a way we don't like. Unwanted things happen and we create tension within ourselves. Desired things don't happen, a few obstacles arise and we get upset about them again. We start to get tangled up inside. And this process of reacting makes the entire mental and physical structure so tense, so full of negativity. Life becomes one big misery.’


Goenka's voice is hypnotic which makes me sleepy. Every time I have to call myself to order. 


'Things constantly occur that are contrary to our wishes and desires. So the question is: how can we stop blindly reacting to things we don't like and avoid reacting impulsively? How can we avoid becoming tense? How can we keep our peace and quiet? When anger arises within us, it overpowers us so quickly that we don't even notice it. Then, overcome with anger, we do or say things that are hurtful to ourselves and others. Later, when the anger has subsided, it bothers us and we regret it. We then ask this or that or God for forgiveness: "Oh, I did something wrong, please forgive me!" But next time, in a similar situation, we react in exactly the same way. All that remorse doesn't help anything. The difficulty is that we are not aware of when an impurity begins. It begins deep in the subconscious of the mind and by the time it reaches the conscious level it has become so strong that it overpowers us and we cannot observe it.’


Dear Goenka, I think, I don't completely agree with you. The way you say it now, it seems as if we are all going around in circles, but I don't have that feeling. I see people changing around me, including myself. I just wish it would go a little faster and that I could use a clear method to help myself further, that's why I'm here. 


‘About 2,500 years ago, Gautama Buddha reached the ultimate truth and found the real solution. He discovered that whenever an impurity arises in the mind, two things happen simultaneously on the physical plane. One is that the breath loses its normal rhythm. One starts breathing more heavily whenever something negative arises in the mind. This is easy to observe. And, at a finer level, a biochemical reaction occurs in the body, leading to a sensation. So every impurity creates a sensation in the body. And this is the key to the solution, a practical solution. If we continue the practices, eventually the impurities disappear completely and we maintain our peace and happiness. Gradually the mind becomes free from impurities; it becomes pure. And a pure mind is always full of love, unconditional love; full of compassion for the shortcomings and misery of others; full of joy at their success and happiness; full of equanimity under all circumstances. Those who regularly practice Vipassana become more sensitive to the misery of others and do their utmost to alleviate that misery as best they can without any excitement but with a mind full of love, compassion, and equanimity. In this way, they maintain their happiness and contentment while contributing to the peace and harmony of others. This direct experience of the truth about ourselves, this technique of self-observation is called Vipassana meditation. “Vipassana” means observing things as they really are.’


It is deathly quiet in the Dhamma Hall, everyone listens breathlessly to the almost magnetic voice of the man who spread the Vipassana meditation technique throughout the world. I'll pick up the thread again.


'All you have to do is train your brain. You wouldn't let a wild elephant loose in your beautifully landscaped garden, would you? And certainly not a bull elephant, life-threatening even, it could cost you your life! No, an elephant must be trained, with great patience, with total acceptance of its mistakes, over and over again you lead the elephant to where you want it to work. Treat your brain as a wild elephant, respect its power, and know that only with a lot of patience can you tame this enormous power so that it serves you. If you can tame this force, you will have a wonderful and very powerful servant for the rest of your life.' 


Suddenly, a huge elephant sits in front of my eyes, it is a lady, she looks at me with her little bright eyes, shakes her head, reaches for my head with her trunk, sniffs, touches my hair, and then turns around. Her tail flicks against my nose as she slowly trudges away. Her name is Gertrude. Fascinated, I follow her into the jungle. 


From: The Story of a Thousand Lifetimes


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