Note: we were not allowed to write while in residence at Dhammagiri for the ten days of Arya Maun (Noble Silence). So all my notes are from my memory of my experience, which is good since that allows only the highlights to be expressed. The urge for writing down thoughts and experiences was so high, that I jotted down few random points on my own visiting cards everyday, budgeting one card per day. The ink has spread on the plastic coated cards and thus that exercise has been futile.
I reached Igatpuri from Nagpur by Duranto express. The train reached the station at 5:10 am. It was dark outside as I alighted. Five – six other people had also got down at Igatpuri station. I shared an auto-rickshaw to Dhammagiri with S and her husband. S would be attending the meditation camp. Her husband had accompanied her to drop her there as it was her first time. The Autorickshaw valla charged us 80/- for the short ride from the railway station to Dhammagiri.
At first glance itself, the venue was beautiful, especially in the early morning lights – a campus with a bounty of nature. We were shown to some temporary area where we could leave our luggage and freshen up. We were asked to be as quiet as possible, especially on the walking path – the Shantipath. The registration would start at 9 am, after we had our breakfast.
Male – female segregation began right from the registration desk. To start with, there were just 30-40 of us. People were arriving from Mumbai. Most of them were here for the first time. Though there is a center – Tapovan – in Gorai, Borivali, people seem to come to Igatpuri for a more authentic experience as this is the first center that Shri Goenkaji established. In fact that is how I thought too. In spite of a center near Nagpur, I had travelled all the way to Igatpuri. Since I was among the early ones to reach, I got a single occupancy room. My room was In the R series which was on a downslope and I had to walk all the way up while going to any place thereafter. That was good as that gave me a bit of physical exercise of climbing up and down each time. I shifted my luggage there and set about making the room a home for myself for the next ten days. It was clean already, suggesting that the person before me had been considerate enough.
We had to gather back at the main office and our other formalities were yet to be done. We had to submit our mobiles at the counter latest by 5 pm.
Gradually, the female registration area was full of 200+ women, obviously talking. Though most of us were meeting for the first time, there were endless reasons and topics to talk about. I wondered how we all would keep quiet for so many days.
After an initial flurry of last minute phone calls (which went on for many minutes) and messages, the compulsive social-media-checking etc, my mind adjusted to the fact that I had to be silent now. And introspect. I submitted my phone by 3 pm.
Some women were there from distant places, Parbhani, Pune, Jalgao, one lady from Dubai. The Mumbai-and-its-suburbs crowd had increased.
A lady boasted that it was her eighth time. We all exclaimed in wonder. She was a teacher from Mumbai suburbs and said that she attended the course every summer vacation. Like a college senior for us, we expectantly hung on every word of hers. She spoke fluently in Hindi. Then someone asked her how she did not speak Marathi in spite of being in Mumbai for so many years. And she reflexly spoke (with hints of irritation) about her age-old anti-Marathi stand and resistance to learn the language and how she was managing excellently with her Hindi. This much angst against a language – after being associated with Vipassana for the past seven years!! That made me realise that Vipassana will help me only if I allow it to. I have to be conscious and alert – not passive and waiting.
I sat beneath a mango tree in the campus. Squirrels were running around on the branches above and birds were also pecking at the fruits. Some of the fruits were falling down around me. What a feeling!
I gradually stopped interactions with the women around me. Their chatter became distant. I became aware that for the next ten days I could not and would not communicate. I was discouraged from the act and process of writing. I would miss my family, my routine. I would miss my work, my patients. I would miss external music. I would miss singing. This was my personal journey.
In the evening we had our first in-campus dinner of Murmure and milk and a banana. We had an orientation talk with strict instructions as to how we should behave. The senior lady scolded us in anticipation of possibilities of breaking rules. I wondered if the scolding was an administrative requirement or whether the her refresher meditation course was long overdue! We as a group accepted her anticipatory admonishments with good humour. After her instructions we were divided in batches (I was in the white card holders) and taken to the Dhamma hall – a massive hall which would accommodate us for the next ten days for almost ten hours a day. Each one of us had our own meditation mattress which would be exclusive for us for the next ten days. We heard our first recorded discourse of Shri Goenkaji, where he urged us to be sincere, unbiased and to give a fair trial to the process he would train us in.
Arya Maun (Noble Silence) started. The journey began.
As my mind settled down amidst the growing silence around me, thoughts started arising inside which I could now hear, being away from all noise.
The exterior keeps changing. The exterior wealth and beauty keeps changing. Real wealth and beauty then has to be inside. The people we associate with keep changing. But the person within stays with us till death (or neurological disease). I had to connect within – that is what all the silence was for. Self awareness : adhya-atma – An active internal process which requires external passivity – cutting off of the external stimulation.