I attended a course at Vipassana Meditation Centre Dhamma Sobhana in Ödeshög in Sweden. The course introduction clearly states that there is no religion included in the courses. But is that really true?
(Wikipedia) Theology translates into English from the Greek theologia (θεολογία) which derived from Τheos (Θεός), meaning “God,” and -logia (-λογία), meaning “utterances, sayings, or oracles”. Theology is the critical study of the nature of the divine. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities, seminaries and schools of divinity.
This is part 4 of my stay at the Vipassana course on Dhamma Sobhana. You can find part 1 here.
If this theology stuff scares you or doesn’t interest you, you may skip ahead to the summary.
When you read the Dhamma Sobhanas web page, it states that:
The entire path (Dhamma) is a universal remedy for universal problems and has nothing to do with any organized religion or sectarianism. For this reason, it can be freely practiced by everyone, at any time, in any place, without conflict due to race, community or religion, and will prove equally beneficial to one and all.
This is emphathized a lot of time during the course. Vipassana meditation is not connected to a religion, and those attending the course may be of any religion. You may be christian, jew, islamic, hindu, sik or sworn to the red hat smurf religion and still get something out of the course. Despite this, you are not allowed to pray to those gods during the course. You are not allowed to recite texts, fast, burn incense, counting beads etc. All this to be able to reach into the the Vipassana methods completely.
During the evening classes they talked a lot about Buddha. After all, he is the “inventor” of Vipassa according to them. They also tought us that it was through Vipassana meditation that he had reached enlightenment.
It might be worth noting that when we in the western world talk about Buddha, we talk about the person Siddharta Gautama. Buddha is actually a title which in the language Pali has the meaning “awakened” or “enlighted”. Anyone can get enlighted (according to the course by practicing Vipassana meditation). When you do, you become a Buddha, an enlightened person. When I talk about Buddha on this page, however, I talk about the person Siddharta Gautama.
Siddharta Gautama lived in India about 500 BC. According to Wikipedia there seems to be some conflict about when he lived. Most people seems to think that he became 80 years old. They claim that he died 543 BC, 486 BC or maybe 368 BC. According to the evening class at the course Buddha meditated the first time under a tree when he was 5 years old. He attended a lot of meditation classes, but it was Buddha himself that found out the last pieces of the puzzle that actually made him enlightened by the age of 35. He spent the rest of his life helping other people to avoid suffering and to also become enlightened.
Pretty soon during the evening classes they stated that a human life is suffering. We are longing for stuff we cannot have and we are dwelling on what has happened to us. This causes the suffering. By meditating using the Vipassana method you learn to look at the longing and dwelling objectively and by that you disarm the longing and dwelling. Then you are free from suffering. The longer you sit down, unarming the longing and dwelling, the more stuff bubbles up to the surface to be handled and forgotten. In the end there is nothing more to unarm, and at that point you are enlightened. Then you are able to look at everything you have done and everything you do objectively.
This is where things got a bit strange for me. When Buddha reached this level of consciousness he was suddenly able to remember his previous lives. I can’t remember if he had to go through the process again with the longing/dwelling with all his former lives before reaching complete enlightenment, but when he did he supposedly stated that: Now I cannot be born again, because now I understand how everything is connected.
I would say that these stories are rather connected to Budhism. A religion. I don’t have any problems with this, but I would say that Vipassana meditation is slightly drawn to Budhism.
Some interesting questions are coming to mind by this. According to the course, the strongest longing/dwelling that you keep at the moment of your death will be in your mind when your die. When you are reborn, this thought will be the first thing that will be in your mind. I think this is a rather interesting experiment of thought, and I wanted to talk to the teacher about this. I asked him if he remembered his previous lives, but he didn’t. If he would had said yes, I had some other questions for him.
Are all people reborn as humans? Are all people reborn on planet earth? Do you remember the places you have visited in previous lives? If you die young, are you able to visit your parents from your last life and recognize them? Interesting questions. My teacher disarmed my questions by saying – don’t think too much about rebirth. Think about what you can do to feel as good as possible when you die. If your last thought is passed on to your next life, that’s all good. If it doesn’t – you will die happy.
Another good saying before we leave the subject is from the evening classes:
You can’t walk through life crying and expect to die with a smile on your lips.
Another thing that came into mind was the stuff about looking at everything objectively. If I get insulted and feel spitefulness against the person insulting me, I should disarm that feeling by looking at it objectively. That way, you no longer feel hatred, but love and compassion against the person insulting you. You realize that the person who said those things had experienced bad things in life. It’s because of the suffering from those experiences that he needs to insult you. I like that theory. It’s easier to forgive someone for being an idiot when you think about how bad it must feel to be an idiot. (That was the spirit of it all, right?)
But this thing about longing should also be treated objectively as to not be caught up in desire. You should not get caught in desire for confirmation, longing, dreams and passion. It is wrongful to long for a new car, to look forward to travelling and so on. Live in the now! What? I though, does this mean that you are not allowed to laugh and be happy? Am I not allowed to experience any feelings at all? Should I walk around in some kind of limbo and look at everything objectively?
I asked my teacher about this as well. According to him you are allowed to experience all those feelings but you should not desire them. If you look out the window and notice that it’s summer, you should know that autumn is coming soon and accept it. There is no gain in holding on to summer and believe that it would last forever. In the same way, when the horizontal rain hits you in the face in November you should realize that it will pass. In a couple of months summer will be back again and the sun will shine from blue skies. Live in the now, and enjoy it.