31 July - 6 Aug 2015 #769

The Vipassana way

The meditation technique that holds the key to post-disaster recovery
Roop Jyoti

One of the unseen and underestimated aftershocks of the 25 April earthquake was the psychological stress it had on individuals and families.

As a teacher of Vipassana, I feel the meditation technique holds special importance to reduce stress and help us deal with disasters like this. After all, Vipassana means seeing things in a special way. In Buddhism, we have a word for the consequences of our own deeds: ‘sankhara’. It is our own sankhara that brings about misery, suffering, dukkha. They are the cause of our fear, and our life ends when it has to end, and our sankhara determine the kind of death we will face.

So, with or without an earthquake, it is our own sankhara that brings us misery, fear, and we die when we die, not earlier not later. If the things we do out of our own volition have such consequences we need to be careful when we carry out those deeds. Unwholesome deeds will bring misery and suffering sooner or later. We carry with us a huge stock of past deeds and at the appropriate time we may suffer the consequences to oneself or a dear one, or have an illness. One such life event could be an earthquake.

Many people view events in life as fate or destiny, or something preordained. It doesn’t need to be. With Vipassana we can rid ourselves of our sankharas, thus reducing the intensity of suffering. Whereas fate or destiny is viewed as something that cannot be changed, we can make good events happen in our life by performing wholesome deeds. As the Buddha said: Keep away from all unwholesome deeds, accumulate wholesome deeds, and purify your mind.

The Buddha gave a sermon listing 38 proper deeds in Mangala Suttam. Some of them are relevant in the aftermath of the earthquake: avoid company of rumour-mongers or people who spread fear or who make unfounded predictions, do not stay in damaged buildings, take care of your family and do not cause them anxiety, help fellow beings, there will be ups and downs in life but your mind must not tremble, etc.

Fear is an impurity of the mind. The more the stock of fear we have within us, the fiercer is the fear when disaster strikes. Before Vipassana, we may think that the cause of fear is external, that someone did or did not do something, but actually the cause of fear is within us. It is not the earthquake that is the reason for our fear, it is our attachment to ourselves and our possessions. Through Vipassana, we can lessen our attachment and rid ourselves of fear.

The Buddha said that life is like an arrow shot from a bow. It will fall when it has to fall. We all know that we have to die one day, we just don’t know when. Vipassana students know that the state of mind is most important when one meets death. If our life has to end at a particular moment, it will end whether or not there is an earthquake. But if that is not the time when our life has to end, it will not end. The important thing is not to fear it when it comes.

Dhamma must be translated into our daily lives. If we don’t understand and accept that suffering, Dukkha is the result. It means we have not understood, and are not living a life of Dhamma. Ultimately, what is necessary is to maintain our equanimity at all times so that we are not affected by fear during natural calamities and other upheavals.

May all those who lost their lives in the recent earthquake be reborn as human beings and attain liberation. May all those who suffered come in contact with Dhamma and emerge from misery.

Roop Jyoti is a PhD from Harvard University, is Vice-chairman of the Jyoti Group and a Vipassana meditation guru.

Read also:

Union with the universe, Shristhi Shrestha

All in the mind, Anjana Rajbhandary

Surviving trauma, Anajana Rajbhandary

Addressing posttraumatic stress, Anjana Rajbhandary

It’s all in the mind, Shreya Mukherjee

Simply soul, Sushma Amatya

Benazir Bhutto and Vipassana, Roop Jyoti