Day 5 – Morning 21 May
No amount of prior research and analysis could have prepared me for my fifth day. This day was to be D-day, the day when the Vipassana process would be actually taught to us in the evening session of 6-7:30 pm. The 8-timer Lady from Mumbai-suburbs had told us that it became really interesting after this day. ‘Bohot majaa ayega!’ (It will be a lot of fun!). There was an undercurrent of excitement since the previous night.
The people who were older students, attending for the second time or more, were meant to sleep on the floor. However, we, the first-timers had a bed / mattress to sleep on, a foot and a half above the floor. In my room it was an inbuilt structure with bricks and cement, a simple platform along the wall like a bunk bed, with a bedding / mattress laid out on it. It was comfortable and there was no problem in falling asleep.
On the morning of the fifth day, I woke up with a jerk, much before the alarm clock in my room or the tinkling of handbells outside. A dream woke me up – Sharmilee, a friend currently in Australia, was talking to me about people in my life, we were discussing a particular person and the reference came up of an episode – a silent crime – a major part of which had occurred many decades ago, in which I had not been involved, but its consequences had affected me (and still continue to do so). I was explaining to her how the others had reacted to the event. She shook her head in shock and disdain and I woke up, shocked!
When I had enrolled for the course, I had prepared myself for ghosts from the past visiting me. As I had told Prachi, I had done a bit of homework on myself. I had a list of possible ghosts of pain, hurt, anguish and anger. The adventurous MonkeyMind was all set. But the SquirrelMind had something else on the agenda. Obviously the MonkeyMind did not know how the event had affected me but the SquirrelMind saw a different pattern and kind of KNEW about the inner (and outer) consequences !? SquirrelMind was aware, wary and yet protective of MonkeyMind.
This event had been revealed to me and a few others a few years ago, putting me in a position of a bystander, that too an innocent one. I had so far accepted that role, passively observing, waiting and hoping for events to take a just and fair turn, for the consequences to fade away. However that has not happened and is unlikely to happen in the future. I consciously chose silence as my modus operandi, going against all my karma-yogi instincts and my knee-jerk-thinking-pattern of ‘what-can-I-do-about-this’ (which has often led me into quick action and confrontations). I had been purposefully silent as I had considered the episode to not be in my jurisdiction. I had been dutifully silent out of social appropriateness. I had been politically silent, things not concerning me directly, no obvious repercussions being felt, or so I had been thinking. But the dream suggested otherwise. Sharmilee and my dream questioned me. They questioned my silence. They questioned the purpose of my silence. I was dazed when I woke up! WHAT?! WHY?!
I reflexly got ready and went for the 4:30 session, sat on my mat and closed my eyes, hoping for the dream to fade away from my mind and the illuminated triangle to take its place. But the DJ system had started. The Mindspace Monologues were back. The emails started. I was talking, questioning, challenging the people involved in the silent crime, directly and as accessories, knowingly or unknowingly. Surprise, surprise! The actual villain was of no importance. The side-kicks were! I debated the issue and argued. The arguments went from paragraphs to pages. Massive Mindspace Monologues! I had been hijacked!
We always list acts of commission as causes of our pains. But sometimes when it is crucial that we act but don’t, we should respond but don’t, we should and could change things but don’t – that too matters – perhaps more!!! When action is needed but we are unable to act, when we make conscious choices of indifference and silence, that is when apathy and even antipathy replace empathy.
If the crime had been silent, my silence had been criminal.
The beauty of the Vipassana meditation retreat was the non-judgemental attitude of the Process towards each individual. There was no inquisitive, analytical probing and no counselling was thrust upon us. The Buddha had not judged even Angulimaal, who had killed 99 people out of vengeful rage and was looking for the 100th victim. The Enlightened One had compassionately guided the angry person, using the Process, towards cleansing and peace. Similarly, at Dhammagiri no one judged us. I too was not supposed to judge myself. Compared to Angulimaal, my hurts, harms, pains and crimes were negligible. So it was easier to learn to not judge and to forgive myself for them. But in this dream-situation I was neither the one to forgive nor the one to be forgiven. And yet I was affected. I was supposed to be the catalyst. I was supposed to be the enhancer. I was supposed to be the advocate.
Three Degrees of hurts, says The Buddha :
the first, like lines on water – disappearing instantaneously,
the second, like lines on a sea-shore – washed away by the tide within hours,
the third, like lines on rocks – chiselled into the stone, taking ages to weather and wither away!
This silent line was a Rocky and I too had chosen the Mute path! There was nothing subtle about my silence anymore. It was grossly misplaced. The realisation stifled me further. Was I creating a new line for myself, sitting there on my meditation mat!? That would be such a gross paradox!
I had to get off this silent ride!!! ‘Hum yahan vyakul home nahi aye hai!‘ (We haven’t gathered here to be sorrowful or in pain!)
I promised myself I would take action – some action – maybe a middle path – as soon as it was reasonably possible. That seemed to quieten the DJ. There were breaths – silent ones – and pauses – an occasional luminescent triangle, and bits of emptiness. Interspersed were doubts of my promise, about how I would be unnecessarily ruffling and rippling apparently quietened waters (with a storm brewing beneath)! These doubts would trigger monologues, arguments and emails!! Why such long emails!? Would they even read them – these concerned people!? Then I had to promise again to still the torrential currents.
This sequence of monologues, emails, arguments and The Promise continued, and they flowed into the following few days, till I actually wrote bits of my imaginary email on my travel ticket, which was the only largish paper with me. That act seemed to make the promise real.
Many things can hurt and harm us. Often we forget the potential of our misplaced, unjust silence and inaction to harm us.
The difference between reaction and response is difficult to understand and even more difficult to implement. Silence may be required for the transition between unwanted reaction and needed response. Once the situation is sifted through sieves of rational requirements, balancing emotional needs, it would be essential to break the silence and move ahead towards response. No response to anything and rampant compassionate forgiveness towards crimes and criminals cannot lead to a sustainable society.
Silence is not always golden. It can be dark and heavy!