Our past good deeds bear their good fruits. Coincidences they say are miracles in which God chooses to be anonymous. According to the Hindus and also Buddha’s Dhamma or the Universal Law, our past good deeds bear their good fruits, sometimes at the most unexpected times and lift us out of the most perplexing, difficult catch 22 situation that we may be in. Whatever you may choose to call it, I sure needed the help to get me out of drugs and sort out all the problems that I’d landed my self into, mainly because of them.
I’d been regularly using drugs since the summer of 1969, marijuana as hash, grass and bhang, alcohol, and various combinations of pills, sleeping pills Quaalude (Mandrax) and barbiturates, amphetamines, pain killers, antihistamines or whatever I could lay my hands on. By 1987 after chasing brown-sugar, an adulterated form of heroin, for over 5 years I had reached the dumps, the pits of a bottomless hole and slipping deeper into the muck.
I had tried a number of times to stop my drug-use, in hospitals and even in a mental asylum but the doctors and psychiatrist had no permanent cure for addiction. Within a few days or weeks of leaving the hospital I was back using again. I’d tried marriage and when that didn’t work I’d even hoped that our separation would help. It didn’t. I’d tried taking a job in a neighboring state where prohibition of even alcohol was in force, hoping that a geographical change would cure my addiction. But that didn’t help either. The moment I was back in town, I’d start using again.
I’d even tried substituting heroin with alcohol for a long time. But I could never drink like normal people. I drank like a fish, often getting into brawls landing up in police lock-ups. Black-outs were quite normal and I used to often wake up on the filthy road side, bruised with all my money stolen. Once I even came to my senses in a police station when a doctor there, started stitching up the deep gash that I’d got on my fore-head and I didn’t even know how I’d got hurt.
After being away from heroin for over a year, one fine day as I was walking down a road, I saw an addict using by the curb-side. I don’t know what got into me at that moment but without even thinking I approached him and started using brown-suger with him and got stuck in it all over again. After that, no matter how hard I tried I could never stay away from it for more than a day or two. I was literally fed up with myself.
At about that time I got friendly with a beautiful young lady who stayed right across the street, opposite my apartment. She was truly a Twentieth Century Fox. She had the world locked up inside a plastic box. By then I had blocked myself totally from the outside world and my world was but the drugs and its paraphernalia. And that’s precisely what the magic-genie placed inside the plastic box. The box always contained a candle, tissue papers, tin foil, scissors, a spoon, beedis, cigarettes and of course brown-sugar, tablets and maybe other drugs. That was all we addicts ever lived for. As I was living all by myself, my place became a convenient pad for her to use, far from the prying eyes of all the inquisitive people around.
An addict that’s stuck in the grips of his addiction, especially to heroin, is often the first person to know that he’s licked, that he’s become a prisoner of his own habit and is desperately searching for a way out. An easier softer way if possible, but he definitely wants to get out of his drug problem. And so it was for her too. She and her parents had been knocking on the doors of treatment centers for years without much success. She also used to go to the NA & AA meetings and would often ask me to go with her to those meetings. But seeing that they were not working for her, I doubted they’d be able to help me.
In the summer of 1988 a French addict, Ponty, who’d stopped using and was away from drugs for quite a while, was sent by a rehabilitation center in Goa to help her. A week later she asked me to allow him to stay with me for a few days as his paper-work and flight ticket back to France was taking longer than expected and so needed to be in Bombay some more time while she went for her treatment to Goa. An addict usually never trusts anyone, specially another addict whether recovered or not. So there’s no way I would have allowed anyone to come and stay at my place. But somehow I allowed him to stay at my place. And this one good deed probably saved my life.
Ponty was the first addict that I’d seen who had kicked his drug habit. He was a very kind and caring person. He was also very hard-working and helpful. The first thing he did after coming to stay with me was to clean up the filthy pig-sty that my home had become. I had been too lazy to do anything but have drugs. I never washed even the dishes and utensils after eating. Ponty, understanding the inherent lethargy of a using addict like me, used to get or cook up something for me to eat on returning home after a tiring day and would also promptly wash and clean up after our supper.
We spent a lot of time talking about our past, and I found that we were quite alike each other. We both liked the same types of music and shared quite similar woes. He had come many years ago to India, the drug-heaven for western tourists. Being an addict he had soon got strung out. To get his daily fix of drugs he had sold his ticket and started hustling, petty thievery and scrounging on other sympathetic tourists, spending the summers in Manali and winters in Goa. He even had to sell his passport just to make ends meet.
Finally a couple of years earlier he’d heard of a meeting only for addicts, where they met only to help each other stop using drugs. Knowing is one thing, but going to the meeting and asking for help is a totally different ball game. For one thing an addict is usually very self-conscious and it takes him a lot of courage to get out of his isolation and go and ask for help, especially to a group of strangers. After a few months however, becoming desperate with the state he was in, it dawned on him that his only hope of going back home to his family in France was to stop using drugs. He mustered up the necessary courage and went to the meeting along with another addict. Soon the addicts there admitted him to a treatment center and he stopped using drugs and had not had any drugs or alcohol since then.
It wasn’t just his story that impressed me. I could see that he had been just like I was. But what impressed me more was the way he lived while staying with me. He was so humble, responsible, helping and hopeful. He was always jovial and a pillar of strength in spite of neither having enough money nor knowing when or how he’d manage to get a flight ticket back home. He was a living example of what I too could become. If he could stop using drugs and become a useful productive member of society, so could I.
Everyday he’d get up early, wash up and go to the consulate for his passport, paperwork, visa and plane-ticket or to ask someone to sponsor his expenses. As he didn’t have much money he’d often walk miles to work or to get to the nearest public transport or railway station, often many miles in the Bombay humid summer heat. Often he’d go to help some other addict who needed help or to meet many of his friends. I was surprised that he, a foreigner, had many more friends in my home-town than I had.
Once or twice a week he used to go to the meetings. All the many doctors and psychiatrists that I’d tried were unable to help me with my addiction problem. He confirmed my suspicion that most doctors and psychiatrists didn’t understand our problem and so could not help us. But he added that an addict could best understand another addict. And the clean addicts whom he’d found at the meetings had helped him to stop using drugs. He said that they’d help me too and so tried his best to take me to a meeting along with him. But I always had some excuse or the other for not going.
A few weeks later he got his papers and a ticket and flew off to France. But before leaving he convinced me to go to at least a meeting and I assured him that I would definitely go. But drug-addiction damages the frontal cortex member of the brain that governs among other things logic, rational thinking and memory. So shortly after he left I’d forgotten about it and started seeing a counselor who convinced me to get detoxed and start taking Naltraxon a medicine used to suppress craving for drugs. However Ponty had also asked another addict-friend of his to take me to the meetings.
Vicky used to drop in at my place every few weeks in the hope of taking me along with him in his car to the meeting. I used to love Vicky’s company but I kept avoiding going to the meetings, thinking that addicts, like me, were all lousy and so incapable of helping me. I was also afraid that if I went to a meeting, everyone would find out that I was an addict. Vicky kept on assuring me that only addicts who were trying to stay away from drugs were allowed at the meetings and they wouldn’t tell anybody about my being there. He told me what happened at the meetings. Whoever wanted to talk took turns and shared his experiences and how he’d managed to stop using drugs. I didn’t have to tell them anything if I didn’t want to but could merely listen to their stories. That I might be able to identify with what someone shared and maybe make new friends there.
Finally after a couple of months one Sunday I went with him to a meeting. The meeting was held at a rehabilitation center a couple of miles away from my place. There were over twenty chaps there sharing their experience with drugs, how they’d stopped using by attending the meetings and what they were doing to stay clean. They welcomed me at the meeting and I sat and listened to their stories. It seemed as though they were telling parts of my story. I was amazed that they were so open about sharing the things that I wouldn’t have told anyone. They talked about how they felt. I could identify with them as I too had felt just like them.
At the end of the meeting they all asked me to keep coming back. The inmates of the treatments stayed behind and the rest about a dozen of us went to a tea shop and chatted over cups of tea. I’d always thought that ‘I was different,’ that ‘Nobody understands me.’ This was the first time that I realized that there were others who had done things and felt just like me. I felt that they understood me and cared for me. I was not alone anymore.
Although some of them were still using drugs like me, many of them had stopped using, some for a few weeks or months but many of them were also away from drugs for a few years. They shared with me what had and had not worked for them. From their collective first-hand experiences I started learning a lot of things. I remember a chap there who shared with me his experience with Naltraxon.
He was still using but he told me about how he’d been away from drugs for a number of months by having Naltraxon but had started using all over again as soon as he’d stopped having it. I had made a new set of friends. Unlike my using buddies, they cared for me, understood me and were eager to help me stay away from drugs. And being addicts themselves we had a lot in common. Among other things, we all liked the same type of music, movies and hang-outs. I liked their company and so started going to meetings daily.
They gave me the hope that I so desperately needed and I grew confident that if I kept going to the meeting regularly, I too would some day kick my habit as they had. They also came with me to community and municipal hospitals and meet some social workers, to try and get me into treatment. But in those days very few hospitals used to admit addicts for detoxification and the nursing homes that admitted us were expensive and I could not afford them.
There remained but one hope for me, to get myself admitted to a detox facility of a mental hospital in a nearby city. But I was scared of going to a mental hospital as I had a court litigation going on. And if I was to be hospitalized there, the hospital records could be used to show that I was insane, making me loose in the court-case.
They assured me that if I made ninety meetings in ninety day a miracle would happen and I’d get clean. There was no way that an intelligent guy like me would have fallen for a dumb thing like that. But having no other option I kept going back to the meetings. In the next three months I tried a number of times to stop using my heroin on my own. I could manage a day or two without drugs. But by the second night or the third day the cold-turkey with running nose, loose motion and body pain would become unbearable and I’d start using again.
Ninety days came and went and I was still using. Ninety-one, Ninety-two, Ninety-five days, and I was getting restless. Was their miracle ever going to happen? Finally after a hundred days or so I mustered up the courage and asked the whole meeting at the end of the meeting ‘You all told me that if I made ninety meetings in ninety days, a miracle would happen and I’d get clean. It’s now over hundred days that I’ve been coming daily to these meeting. How come, I am still using?’
At that meeting an addict who’d stayed about 5 years away from drugs had come from down-town. He walked up to the podium and shared his experience strength and hope for us. He seemed so serene that I felt as though he had a halo round his head. ‘I came to the meetings everyday for six months using drugs. And today I’m 5 years clean.’ That restored in me the hope that I’d begun to loose and I continued making the meetings.
All 12 Step fellowships are founded on the belief that ‘Together we can do what we can’t do alone.’ There is a line in the Narcotics Anonymous book ‘By humbling ourselves and asking for help, we can get through the toughest of times. I can’t, we can.’ At that meeting what had happened is that for the first time since coming to the meetings I had humbled myself and asked for help. That week I also went to my first AA meeting and asked for help there too. And it worked.
At that meeting there was another addict who had previously tried to help me get admitted to the municipal hospital. Pekett was in the process of shifting from one apartment to another. He agreed to come and stay with me for a week or so to help me with my detoxification. A few days later he came to stay with me and I stopped using my drugs, cold-turkey—-without any medicines except for some anti-diarrhea tablets. With his help, I didn’t find stopping all that difficult.
During the day, when he went to work I had other members who’d drop in and give me company or I went to their place. The main problem I had to overcome was that for a whole week I just could barely get a couple of hours’ sleep each night. But I had Pekett my friend for company and we would talk till late at night. Afterwards I would make it a point to lie down in my bed and not get up even if I felt restless, to give my body the rest it required.
After a week my sleep returned and Pekett left. By then, the cravings for drugs had gone and I was once again comfortable with myself. Of course, I had to take the necessary precautions. Avoid old places, playmates and playthings they told me. I scrupulously avoided going on the streets or areas where they peddled drugs. When I was a couple of weeks clean one of my favorite rock group came to town. All my friends at the meeting had planned to go to the concert.
They didn’t want me to come as there would be a lot of drugs circulating in the crowds there and they were afraid I might meet some of my old using buddies with whom I might start using again. But I was adamant on going. They told me that if they went I was not going with them and I went along with them then they would not go. Still, like a child I insisted on going with them. They were so caring and understanding, that they finally all didn’t go, just to save me from relapsing. That’s the kind of real true friends I’d found only at the meetings.
I started staying away from drugs, ‘One day at a time,’ as they told me. The fear of telling everyone my story at the meetings was too great in the beginning. But after a fortnight I mustered up the courage and shared my story for the first time in front of everyone. I was apprehensive about what others there would think of me. But to my surprise everybody appreciated my sharing. It also lifted a lot of my fears. And staying away from drugs began to seem easier. I was really thrilled when I completed a month away from drugs and expressed my gratitude to everyone at the meeting. They gave me a key-chain with ’1 Month Clean & Serene’ written on it. I was thrilled for it was a big achievement for me. I’d worked real hard for it, or so I thought.
After a couple of months at an AA meeting one evening a drunk had come who was insisting that he was not an alcoholic. The chairman told him that if he could bring a bottle home, keep it on the table and have just a drink or two everyday, then probably he was not an alcoholic. On hearing that, my mind started racing. It started telling me that I could easily manage to drink just a drink or two daily and so maybe drinking would not be a problem for me.
My NA friends told me that alcohol is the oldest drug and that we must stay away from all drugs in order to recover. But I was too smart. I quoted a line from what they read at the beginning of each meeting ‘Thinking of alcohol as different from other drugs has caused a great many addicts to relapse.’ I told them that it says that only a great many addicts relapse back into using drugs, that all don’t relapse. So I could drink safely.
I was not then aware that long term drug use causes a great deal of damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain which among other things is responsible for the proper functioning of our memory. My brain had conveniently made me forgot that three years back I had tried to use alcohol instead of drugs but after a year and a half I’d gone back to using heroin, the drug of my choice.
So I started drinking again a couple of pegs or at the most a quarter a few times each week.. But I kept going to the meetings. I used to drink after the meetings so that I could tell everyone that I was clean that day. I didn’t fool anyone but myself. Soon I was drinking practically everyday. A few months later once in a way I drank too much. Once I had some heroin and was shit scared that I might once again get stuck in the snares of my addiction. So the very next day I went and shared about it at the meeting. The members there helped me through this rough time and gave me hope. They asked me to stay away from alcohol too otherwise I’d start using heroin again. So again I started staying away from all drugs even alcohol one day at a time.
They also asked me to do my step work and one of them who was strong in his recovery even suggested that I start writing my inventory. Making an inventory of ourselves is the fourth step of the 12 Step program. But I was too confused about the first three steps itself. So I didn’t think it proper to start my program I started from the 4th step rather than the first step. None of the members could explain and make me understand the steps. And unless I was given a rational explanation, I just could not see the need for them. Most of the other members were staying away from drugs without taking the steps. So I too thought that there was no need for me to take them.
The literature confused and baffled the hell out of me. At the beginning of each meeting we used to read the main part of our literature, The Little White Booklet Narcotics Anonymous. And after hearing it over a hundred times at the meetings I knew it practically by heart. One of the lines in it tells us that the disease of addiction has two parts. It says ‘We well know the two parts that make up true addiction —- obsession and compulsion’.
After getting clean I had been asked to read their blue book ‘Narcotics Anonymous’ also called the Basic Text. I had got one some months back and so now I started studying it in earnest. Each chapter in the Basic Text starts with a chapter from the Little White Booklet, which is highlighted in italics and then contains an essay or its explanation. In it we are told that the disease of addiction consists of the mental part, obsession, a physical part, compulsion, and a third part, spiritual. So, on the one hand the book highlights and tells us that addiction has two parts and then it also tells us that it has three parts. Which was true and which a lie I just could not fathom nor could anyone explain it to me.
I stared feeling as though they were taking me for a ride, I was then going back again and again into my addiction. So by taking just the wording of the first step ‘We admitted that we were powerless over our drugs/addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable’ I could admit it. But the second step ‘Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity’ was a stumbling block. I was a disciple of Science and didn’t believe in God.
I was convinced that even God could not go against the laws of nature, the scientific laws. So believing in God or some Higher Power was out of the question. At the meetings they used to say that ‘Action is the magic word.’ If I was to do all the work, I just could not see why I needed God. Also the Basic Text essay on Step Two ends by saying that only when our belief in this Higher Power has grown are we ready for step three. My belief never grew and I just could not progress on the Steps. And with all the God-talks at the meetings I was convinced that the 12 Step fellowships were all just evangelist movements taking us for a ride in the name of God.
But I was seeing a lot of addicts cleaning up their act in NA and AA and had heard of the hundreds of thousand recoveries in other countries. So I was convinced that I too could recover in these fellowships and continued attending meetings every evening. But I continued hanging out with my old friends and my behavior and attitudes was just the same as it was while I was using. And every few weeks I would relapse back into drinking or have marijuana.
This on-off-on-off continued on for a few months till finally around the end of 1989. Then in a brawl someone broke a bottle of beer on my head. I’m not sure what exactly happened or how but I flew over the cuckoo’s nest. I started doing the craziest of things, running without clothes down the street where I lived, diving in through open windows of slow moving cars if there happened to be a cute chick in it. The cops caught and put me in a mental asylum where I was kept behind bars in a small cage-like cells shitting and eating in the same stinking cell. Every few days they used to give me ECT shocks without any anesthesia. Two chaps used to hold my hand and two my legs. They would put the electrodes on my temples and buzz they’d send me overboard.
After a month or so one of the tenants of our property came and released me. A couple of weeks later the cops again put me back in the loony bin, fortunately this time, not in isolation,. But not before I’d signed off my share of profit in the transfer of a shop, a huge sum of money. This was the second time that I’d lost a fortune because of shock treatments. On being released from the mental asylum I was a paranoid wreck and I started drinking with a vengeance.
Friends came to take me to the meetings but I had lost faith that the fellowships could ever help me. I could hardly trust anyone at the meetings. I was afraid that if I’d shared anything at the meetings members there would make fun of me and tell others. I was desperate and in deep depression. I bought a whole bunch of sleeping pills, and I intended popping them all at night after getting sizzled on alcohol and putting myself to sleep permanently, ending the misery that this world had given me. But I was a coward. When the time came I didn’t have the courage and chickened out.
After a couple of months’ heavy drinking my true love, heroin, finally came back into my life. I was rudely awakened to the need to quit by a cop who followed me back home from my drug-peddler. He frisked me and found the drugs at me apartment entrance. He left me after taking all the money that was on me as a bribe. Now that he knew where I stayed, I knew he’d come back increasing his demands and making a commotion and my neighbors would find out that I was an addict. Now I had to quit come what may.
I didn’t trust members anymore. But I was willing to pay a professional counselor to seek help. So a member took me to a counselor who worked at a treatment center. After telling him about all my problems, with my family, money and other issues, he assured me that all my problems would be solved but first he said I’d have to quit my drugs. He asked me to go the next day to the treatment center where he worked, which I did and got myself admitted there.
The treatment center was based on the Minnesota model, for fifteen months. The first thing that they told me was that I had been playing God all along and that doesn’t work. So first of all I should ‘Quit playing God’. I could understand them; for I had left behind in my drawing room a big poster that I’d made saying ‘I am the only King. I can do anything.’ At the treatment center they had a beautiful poster that said ‘There is a God. It’s not You.’ So I began my program there by acknowledging that I wasn’t God. That was simple enough, ‘though I’m not sure I’ve accepted that, even today.
We began and ended the day there by saying the serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
I did not have any objection to this prayer as it was an action prayer, a reminder of what I needed to do. The prayer was followed in the morning by a reading from some daily meditation book. After which we sat for half an hour of meditation, in which we kept our attention on our breath and kept bringing it back on our breath whenever we became aware that our mind had wandered away from our breath and started rolling in our thoughts. I used to love these meditation sessions.
After breakfast we were made to read the AA Big Book or the NA Basic Text for an hour. I realized how badly my 20 years of drug-use had affected my brain. By the time I’d come to the end of the paragraph I’d forgotten what I’d read at the beginning of it. I used to complain that I didn’t understand what I was reading. But they told me that even if I did not understand it then, some of it was sinking into my brain. So they asked me to just read it anyway. In the fifteen months that I was at the treatment center I guess I did learn a lot from those readings.
The main thing that I learned from those readings was that a spiritual experience or a spiritual awakening was the only thing that could make me all right. The word spiritual was incomprehensible to me. I took a spiritual awakening to mean the awakening of the spirit or the psych, the part deep in my mind or my subconscious. By then I had become aware that there was something wrong with my mind and my thinking. In spite of knowing what to do or say, in times of stress and otherwise too, I could not say or do what I wanted to. This was my powerlessness. So I was aware that some shift had to take place at the subconscious level so that I could intuitively react or respond to situations in an appropriate fashion. People call it God-consciousness or a spiritual awakening or becoming spiritual.
To me the process of bringing about the shift or change was more important than calling it this or that. It didn’t matter what we call it. After the daily reading sessions we were made to write an hour about ourselves in what they called step-work. There were questions on powerlessness, unmanageability, denial, patience, feelings and a whole lot of things.
I wrote hundreds of pages answering those questions. It must have brought about some shift for the better in me, but I was still doing stupid things, reacting negatively in anger and fear and shame and hurting others and myself. I did write a lot of stuff in my fourth step inventory but it was more like essays on various aspects of my life rather than an inventory that’s usually made in columns. But the counselors there could not guide me properly through the inventory and so I left the treatment center without completing the inventory.
The mainstay of the treatment program was yoga. We had a brilliant young dynamic yoga teacher George Vaz. The CEO of the treatment was also a yoga teacher. The great Yoga Guru B.K.S. Iyangar with George’s assistance had specially devised sequences of yoga asanas or postures for the therapeutic treatment of addicts and alcoholics. George used to religiously come thrice a week and get us to do the asanas.
He had the thorough understanding of our physiology and had the knack of getting us beaten and battered addicts to do many complicated postures. He used practically everything and anything that was around, walls, pillars, window-grills, chairs, benches and even the mattresses that we slept on, to see that our postures were correct.
It was in his classes that I learnt to stand properly for the first time. Improper standing posture leads over the years to knee and back problems. Back pain is one of the major causes of stress. He told us which asanas we could do to get rid of back pains. At the end of each class he used to keep us for ten minutes in the inverted shoulder stand posture.
This posture is very helpful in getting more blood and oxygen to our brains which is so essential for an addict to recover. It also calms us down and helps us in getting a proper sleep which always is a problem for addicted people. Along with the physical relief the yoga asanas increase our awareness and bring about a shift deep within, a spiritual experience. After all, yoga in Sanskrit means union, a union with God.
The greatest gift that I’ve ever received in my life came about the time I was preparing to leave the center. A psychiatrist and a teacher of Vipassana meditation came to teach us meditation. He’d come once a week and guide us through a breathing meditation. He explained Vipassana meditation to us and how it helps addicts give up their addiction.
He also left some books on it for us to read. On reading them I found them very scientific and was convinced that Vipassana could bring about in me the shift in consciousness that I had not able to get so far. I’d learnt from my daily reading that taking all the 12 steps leads to a spiritual awakening. But as I was finding it so difficult to go beyond the third step, being stuck on my fourth step for over six month, I decided to go and get my spiritual awakening by attending a ten day Vipassana course as soon as I got out of the treatment center.
The very day I was released from the treatment center I went to a meeting. At that meeting Vicky who’d taken so much trouble to bring me to the meetings and into recovery, was giving a Thanksgiving for being four years away from drugs. But the feelings of joy and gratitude it brought me were short lived. The drug-use over a period of time causes extensive damage to the brain, especially in the pre-frontal cortex and the deep limbic regions. Over-activity in the deep limbic region causes people to have a general negative attitude towards life.
At the meeting Vicky shared that at his brothers wedding he had a glass of Champaign as he’d never had it before and wanted to see what was so great about it that everyone raved about it. In NA alcohol is considered a drug and if one starts drinking it is held as a relapse. But it is left to the individual whether he wants to consider it a relapse or not.
Although Vicky didn’t consider it a relapse and NA tells us not to judge others, it was very difficult for me to accept it. I felt his sharing would cause others to try alcohol and relapse, and so got angry on him and held on to the anger, which soon grew into resentment & I forgot that I owed him the most for bringing me into recovery. Because of this I hated him for a number of years and got into a number of clashes and arguments with him over petty matters.
The people at the meetings were the only friends I had. I had severed ties with most of my old friends and family members because of my drugs. Having lost practically everything, I often felt that my neighbors and other people looked down on me and felt inferior in their company.
It was only at the meeting that I could talk freely and openly, as no one judged me there nor did they look down on me. So I started attending the meetings every evening. After the meetings we went to our hang-out to chit-chat over a cup of tea or two. Like others there, I started talking about the problems I was facing to one or two close friends along with other small talks and gossips.
One of the main problems that most people face is about sexual matters. We imagine a whole lot of weird things about it. Our past sexual exploits haunt us. We have many fantasies and plan on fulfilling them. It’s as though we carry a woman in our mind. And, with this burden on our minds, we are unable to think clearly about other things. We were able to unburden our minds by sharing about it with friends there and also making fun of it.
Till I got into recovery I was a self-righteous gentleman. I never used any profanity, not even the f&%# word. It was a great stress on me to make the effort to avoid any profanity. I had to think twice to see that I avoided profanity. At these after-meetings I was relieved of this stress too and could freely use profanity without so much as a thought about it in their company.
The month I got out of treatment S. N.Goenka was giving a series of lectures of Vipassana in town. So I attended all of them to know more about this meditation technique. Goenkajee as he’s popularly called was a prominent industrialist and the Hindu community’s leader in Burma. While in his twenties he started suffering from migraine headache attacks. As the intensity of the attacks grew worse, he had to take progressively stronger pain killers.
Soon he reached the stage when he had to take morphine to ease the pain. As the frequency of his attacks increased, his physician was disturbed. He felt that Goenkajee was becoming addicted to morphine and so asked him to look around for some other pain killer. Goenkajee took a trip to Switzerland, Europe, USA and even Japan with the sole purpose of finding some alternative medicine, without any success.
A friend of his, the then attorney general of Burma suggested that he learn Vipassana meditation. Vipassana was supposed to purify the mind and as migraine was an illness of the mind, he reasoned that Vipassana might help Goenkajee. But Goenkajee was a staunch Hindu who used to give regular discourses to the Hindu community there on the Bhagwad Gita, Vedas and other Hindu sacred books. One of them, the Kalki Purana, although naming Buddha one of the forms of God Vishnu, strictly prohibits a Hindu from following the teachings of the Buddha.
So he was hesitant at first, but in spite of his apprehensions he went and met Sayagyi U Ba Khin, one of the most prominent Vipassana teachers. U Ba Khin cleared Goenkajee’s doubts and assured him that by doing Vipassana he would still remain a Hindu and would not be converted into a Buddhist.
U Ba Khin was the first Accountant General of independent Burma and had converted one of his office rooms into a meditation center where he used to conduct ten day Vipassana courses for his staff. With the help of Vipassana meditation he had been able to eliminate from his department all corruption and bribery which had been rampant before he took office. The Government of Burma was so pleased with his work that they changed the retirement laws to enable U Ba Khin to continue working. His efficiency was such that for a few years he was also heading four independent departments of the government.
Goenkajee went and took a Vipassana course in 1955. The one Vipassana course alone completely cured his migraine headaches. But more importantly he had learned a technique which taught him the way to achieve the goal that the Bhagwad Gita only talked about, to be a sthita-pragya. He continued practicing under the guidance of his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin the next fifteen years gaining greater insights and higher states of awareness. In 1969 he was appointed as a teacher of Vipassana by U Ba Khin.
He came to India to teach Vipassana to his parents who were going through painful health problems. After the Vipassana course he conducted for his parents, the others who also had sat for the course and benefited immensely, requested him to conduct another course for a few of their family members and friends. This kept on repeating course after course. Thus the river of Dhamma or Dharma started flowing again in the land of its origin. Today Vipassana courses are held in all the five continents, helping hundreds of thousands of suffering people of all the different religions and nationalities find peace and happiness.
The eternal quest of mankind has been to find peace and happiness, to be free. ‘Know thyself’, ‘The Truth will set you free’ all the great sages have told us. But ‘What is the truth?’ is still a million dollar question. Sages, hermits, yogis and rishis often left everything and undertaken great penance to search for this elusive Truth.
The lectures were an eye opener for me. Vipassana means to see the reality within ourselves, not as it appears to be, but as it really is. Vipassana is an ancient technique of India, which was rediscovered some two thousand fivehundred years ago by Siddhartha Gotama. By using this technique he became a Buddha, an enlightened person, the fully-awakened one.
Seeing the Truth, filled him with compassion and he explained the path also known as the Noble Eight-fold Path, Dhamma, Vipassana or Satipatthana to others. Walking on this path thousands of people became arahants, fully liberated. Bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya, i.e. for the benefit and happiness of many, they traveled all over India helping others walk this path. Vipassana helped countless people in India for the next five centuries or so.
One of the greatest examples of the efficacy of Vipassana’s results can be seen in the emperor Asoka whose emblem, the wheel of Dhamma, has become the official seal of India. Asoka lived a couple of centuries after the Buddha and was one of the most cruel king. He captured the throne after killing his brothers and expanded his kingdom by enormous bloodshed. After the Kalinga war he was filled with remorse and started practicing Vipassana.
His efforts in practicing Dhamma lead him to taste amrit, the deathless state, by achieving nibbana, nirvana on Vijay Dashami day. Thereafter he became the most benovalant king, serving the people all the time. He was so grateful for receiving this technique that he sent two fully liberated arahants each to distant lands, Greece, Egypt, Afghanistan, Shri Lanka, Burma, Thialand, Combodia, that people there too could have a chance of coming out of their suffering.
Arround the 1st century A.D. in India, the technique of Vipassana got corrupted and stopped giving results. So people stopped practicing Vipassana and the teachings of the Buddha were lost in the country of its origin. Over the next 20 centuries, in other countries too although the teachings of the Buddha remained on paper, the Tipitika, the actual practice of the technique in its original form vanished.
In India with the institutionalization of the Hindu religion, even the Tipitika vanished. Only in Burma and its surrounding the chain of teacher-student-teacher-student from the time of the Buddha remained. Although there were barely a handful of such teachers, Goenkajee was fortunate to have found one such teacher.
The thing that attracted me most to Vipassana was its scientific basis. Goenkajee called Buddha the greatest scientist of body and mind. In science at the gross level we apply Newton’s Law ‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.’ This was the ‘Law of ‘Karma’ that the teaching of Buddha is based on. At the subtle or sub-atomic level we apply Einstein’s Law of relativity, e=mc2. It was only in 1956 that Prof. Alvares at the University of Berkley showed us with the help of his bubble chamber that matter arises and passes away, being converted to energy, ten raised to twenty-three times i.e. c2 times each second.
Two thousand five hundred years before the bubble chamber the Buddha had discovered this very law by seeing, experiencing it in his own body-mind aggregate and had declared that we are made up of kalapas arising and passing away trillions upon trillion times in the wink of an eye. Kalapas according to him was the minutest particle in the physical plane, the sub-atomic particles that we know of today, in a constant state of oscillation between matter and energy.
Goenkajee explained us that according to the Buddha, there are three stages in the development of wisdom, pannya (pragya in Sanskrit) or samma ditthi, the right understanding in the noble eightfold path.
Suttamaya pannya or wisdom gained by hearing or reading words of someone we have great faith in. I had great faith in science and its great scientist, so I believed Einstine’s e=mc2. But that was just blind faith. After I saw how Einstine’s equation could explain phenomena at the threshold of speed, namely the speed of light, and heard of Prof.Alvares’ experiment proving the same, I intellectually understood the equation as a law or the truth.
This, the Buddha called chintanmaya pannya, intellectual understanding or the wisdom I had gained by rationally examining what I heard and read. However both these suttamaya & chintanmaya pannya are borrowed truths, heard or intellectualized. It will become my truth only when I experience it or see this truth with my own senses. This he called bhavanamaya pannya, experiential or being-ness wisdom. It is only this wisdom that can set us free. After leaving his palace Prince Siddharth Gautam tried many different techniques for six years till he finally re-discovered the long-lost technique of Vipassana meditation.
With the help of Vipassana he explored his body-mind phenomenon. Exploring the complete field of mind and matter he saw the threshold of matter and energy, and was catapulted in the 5th dimension where nothing arises nor passes away, the amrit or deathless state called nibbana, nirvana or moksha and became a Buddha.
Goenkajee told us that the technique of Vipassana is once again available to us all thanks to the few monks and teachers who maintained it over the millennia in its pristine purity. He told us that it was still giving the same results as in the times of the Buddha. He told a lot more in those lectures but this alone had rationally convinced me to go for it. Although the courses the next two months were all full my psychiatrist vipassana teacher got me registered for a 10-Day course next month.
pragya, pratyaksha gyana