Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anicca - Anatta - Dukkha.

Impermanence, Substance less and Misery, these basic tenets were highlighted by Gautama Buddha to explain the natural rules of existence in Samsara (life in the time and space perspective) so as to inspire and guide his followers in their pursuit towards liberation. All phenomena in this world follow these principles and there is nothing that exists beyond or is not bound by them.

Life that is visibly apparent in this world in all its various forms like plants, animals, birds and humans follows a regular cyclic pattern. There is a symmetrical rise and fall which can be noticed both at the macro and micro levels. At the micro level every individual plant, animal, bird or human comes into existence, occupies its space and dies in its own time. At the macro level even the species rise and become extinct like the mammoths and dinosaurs. In the million year’s history of the planet, humans who currently appear as homo-sapiens were previously Neanderthal and something else previous to that. Life has been living on this planet since ages but its form and structure has been changing. Maybe even the planet has a life of its own. Therefore the difference is only the time and space criteria which keep changing from specie to specie. Everything is Anicca or impermanent. Even the thoughts of individual life forms have certain limitation of space and time within which it arises to soon pass away. In this ever changing and never resting world to cling on to anything whether a form or some abstract idea is an unprofitable effort.

Dileep Kulkarni a renowned environmentalist of Maharashtra quoted, “more amazing than the phenomenon of growth, is the cessation of growth”. Growth ceases after a point, always. To maintain equilibrium, nature has its own ways to curb the growth of every species, its own unquestionable methods and irreversible process. All life, grow to a permissible level where it balances the use of available resources like air and water with all other life forms and then ceases to grow only to wither and die. In this natural play of growth and cessation, we do not have any say; our opinion does not have any consequence. It is all anatta, impersonal and substance-less. From the words of Gautama Buddha we understand that existence is only a series of becoming. Each new arising is because of our desire our craving our reaction pattern to the world of change which we observe through the sense organs. When we continue to pamper ourselves we only choose to continue the process of becoming. Each becoming comes to an end and the new one arises. Humans would like to continue with innumerable desires but nature has to look after a balance. Therefore the process of becoming continues. A new life follows a death.

Human enterprise of greed of craving and aversion is therefore naturally fated to be dukkha oriented. Fear lurks behind every such desire because they have to end. When such an end comes it always lead to sufferings and misery. In the scheme of nature nothing is forever. Everything that grows has to die, where ever there is an excess activity nature forces a balance. Nature is impartial to all life forms and humans have no extra significance in its view.

Swami Vivekananda has said that the purpose of human life is to attain liberation. It is humans who have the ability to understand the laws of nature and work their own way out of this illusionary world. Liberation or ‘Nibbana’ was not meant to be an escape from life but it was a joyful existence without sufferings within the realms of Samsara.

Monday, February 7, 2011


My brothers’ wife gave birth to a baby boy on the 1st of February and it being a premature baby was placed under incubation. She was recuperating herself in the hospital and I was visiting every evening. One day it so happened that I went to the hospital in the afternoon itself and found the room empty. I asked the staff and was told that she was given a discharge in the morning. I phoned my brother and he said that he forgot to inform me. I was hurt and angry for a moment. Why I was not told? I was visiting everyday and all of a sudden I find that I am not important in the scheme of events. Oh, what a painful let down. That too by my own brother.

I learnt something from this episode. What did I learn?

Ego does not like to be cold shouldered. It wants to be known to be someone and if possible someone well known. It likes to be acknowledged, accepted, recognized and respected. It wants to be pampered and loved. It has an image of its own and spends most of its waking hours in projecting and protecting that image. Should anybody try to ignore or humiliate that image, the misery is immense. Its sphere of influence could be small and could be even one single individual, but never the less it desires to be considered as important. In this life it is very painful to be alone and not having someone to shower love and importance at you. Everyone wants to feel needed and have a place for himself or herself in this world. The two locations where everyone expects to be loved and respected are home and work. If your parents and siblings don’t give you the importance then atleast your spouse must. If your boss or seniors do not give you the importance then your peers and colleges must. Atleast someone has to be there to accept you as you are with all your rainbow characteristics. Thus the ego needs an external support to believe its reality.

Why does this happen?

The ego by itself is fragile. It is a bundle of feelings and emotions, all work of the mind. It is the nature of the mind to cling on to these feelings and to perpetuate them. The ego for its existence depends on one the self ego itself and second on other egos. When an event happens, for it to be classified as good or bad, the response or feedback of the other egos are evaluated. If the response is not immediately available then it is imagined on the screen of the mind. When others do anything by which one feels happy then the event is marked as good and its repeat is craved. When others do anything by which one feels unhappy then the event is marked as bad and its repeat is avoided. One uses every tool, technique and emotion for such a repeat and avoidance.

How to treat this?

All feelings rise and pass away. To try and perpetuate it is an exercise in futility. To depend on others for ones’ own happiness is madness. To feel needed and loved by others is to perpetuate or prolong the ego. It will always lead to misery some way or other. Therefore one has to look at events that happen with detachment. My brother or his wife had no intention to humiliate me. They love me for sure. That morning probably the doctor unexpectedly decided to give her the discharge and in the process of taking her to the baby for feeding (at another hospital) and then home, they somehow forgot to inform me. It happens. I myself forgot so many important tasks of course all unintentionally. If I am now going to imagine that my brother does not consider me important, then I would be making my life miserable for years to come. And then so what if he has really snubbed me. Thanks to him I have learned about my ego in this process. Whatever happens happens for the good.

VIPASSANA a primary understanding

Vipassana means to see clearly, to see things as they are in reality and not as our mind perceives it to be or wishes to see it. So that brings up certain questions; (a) what is this reality that we don’t see, (b) what is the problem with the mind and (c) do we see with our mind or do we see with our eyes?

Firstly the body is an extension of our thought; it represents our thought in physical form. It is also the instrument for our thoughts for converting ideas into reality. Whatever is in the thoughts is therefore simultaneously registered or connected in the body. For instance some very ordinary examples would be, while sitting beside the driver of a car we inadvertently press the brake paddle if the car is very near to touching another. We start tapping our feet or swinging our hands while listening to good music. Some people get a headache or pain in some part of the body when certain disturbing thoughts come up. This directory of stored information in the body which is related to feelings, emotions, desires and dislikes is what we refer to as conscience mind. When the feeling is strong it gets registered in the sub conscience mind and operates on auto that is without any prompt or effort.

Second, it is the mind which feels the pain and pleasure and not the body. This is contrary to our normal understanding where we always link the body to feelings of physical pain and pleasure. For example when we sleep in a poor or wrong posture we always realize the body pain after we get up when we are awake. Of course the pain or pleasure is always at the level of the body, but the body does not feel it unless the mind acknowledges it.

Third, all such feelings of pain and pleasure gets registered because of our response to an external stimulus. From the six sense doors when an event enters or contacts the mind, it responds. When a friend wave’s hello and the eyes see it, then the mind responds with a friendly wave back. After many such instances the body simply waves back even if the mind is busy in some other thought. Then it becomes a sub conscious reaction. For example we can wave to a friend and talk animatedly on the mobile phone at the same time. The hand has to wave back because the feeling and reaction pattern is registered in that part of the body.

Fourth, all such reaction patterns, which are also called the feelings of pain or pleasure at the level of the body, which are also called vedana (in Pali ) or simply sensation in English, are momentary. They only arise to give reminder intimation and then collapses by itself as a natural process. The sensation urges a reaction, and that reaction becomes a habit. Whether one reacts or does not react to the sensation, in a while it dies down.

Fifth, the reason why the sensations die down is because the body which seems solid is only a collection of wave lets. The body matter is made up of innumerable tiny or nano particles which arise from the food that we eat and gets extinguished because of the actions we perform. That’s why we have to eat again and again. Those parts of the body which we use more often become strong in the form of muscles because there are more such nano particles accumulated or pressed at that place.

Sixth, the reaction patterns can be of pain, pleasure or neutral. The sum total of all such reaction pattern is called our ego. These reaction patterns are based on either love or fear. Love can be selfish or selfless, it could be for aggrandizing the self mind or someone else’s, it could be to protect, perpetuate, reciprocate, respect, honour and many more such kind of emotional thoughts. Likewise fear can be linked to preserve, survive, project, maintain, accumulate and such kind of emotional thoughts. We may laugh or cry, get angry or bless, shout or whisper, shake a hand or give a punch, lecture or serve, run or stand, abuse or protect, lust or refrain; all such physical reactions are based on thoughts of love or fear. That is who we are, that is what our ego stands for.

Vipassana is to realize this reality by observing the sensations on the body very closely. The objective is to understand that our reaction to external stimulus has been the cause of our misery and we can remove all misery from our life if we accept all external stimulus without any reaction of craving (like/want) or aversion (dislike/avoid). All reactions either of craving or aversion signifies a Trishna (a non satiable desire) and always culminates into misery sooner or later. We observe that the same sensation do not arise everytime since they come up depending upon the condition of the mind at that moment of time. By just observing the sensations and not reacting to them, we can change the habit pattern of the mind. When the reaction pattern change, the old sensations obviously do not arise anymore.

By regular, consistent and persistent practice of Vipassana we can observe the entire range of sensations or reaction patterns of our mind. We can break all of them down. That will curtail and minimize our ego, bring us to the level of “stitapragya” that is immersed in wisdom at all times, which is the aim of every Hindu. I say Hindu because no other way of life in any other part of the world ever considered this. We begin to live in the present moment and don’t get bothered by the past or future. We begin to only entertain thoughts of selfless love and eradicate every thought of fear. We happily accept whatever situation life places us.

By continuing the practice of Vipassana, we can break down the wholesome body completely and observe the wave lets. That is the stage which is called as beyond mind and matter, the stage of Nirvana.