Thursday, February 9, 2012

The logic behind Vipassana: how awareness can cleanse awareness

In the world today, there are many self-cleaning technologies. Nature itself exhibits many self-cleaning properties. There are certain machines that depending on how they are being operated, they can clean themselves. Examples are the self-cleaning ovenself-cleaning toilet, self-cleaning litterbox, etc.

Vipassana shows us, that the mind too, depending on how it is operated, can work as a self-cleaning device.

People engage in different procedures/therapies to clean the mind. Sometimes they go for counseling or therapy. Sometimes they take medication. It turns out that if your mind doesn't have significant damage to it, you can use the mind as a self-cleaning device. By operating according to the procedure of Vipassana, you can use the mind and consciousness to cleanse the mind and consciousness. 

Every engine has an operating procedure. Vipassana is an operating procedure of the engine of the mind and consciousness by which it cleans itself.

Whether you are aware of it or not, everyone has an operating procedure for their mind and consciousness. Our operating procedure has been shaped both by nature (genetics) and nurture (parents, teachers, social conditioning). Ultimately the source of both nature and nurture is karma. 

In many ways, the mind is like a transmission. When you turn the engine on and run it on Neutral or on Park, you are warming the engine up, but it is not in gear. Running the engine on Neutral or on Park makes the engine run, but the car is not moving. In many ways, in Vipassana, you start the engine of your mind up by being aware of the sensations of your body. But you are not taking the car out into the world of stimuli. You are leaving the car in Park or Neutral, in the driveway of your house. And sitting there, you are observing the sensations while sitting in your car. You are not reacting to any sputtering sounds, vibration. You are not reacting to the fact that the heat may not be working or the A/C may not be functioning. Your feet aren't even on the gas. The engine is simply running. You are sitting in the drivers seat. Your hands aren't even on the steering wheel. All you are doing is observing the sensations coming from the car while you sit in the driver's seat. And you are doing that without reacting. No matter if the car revs up or down or the engine skips a beat, you remain in equanimity and simply observe every symptom of the running engine. This is Vipassana.
Except, instead of observing all the physical symptoms of the vehicle of your auto-mobile, in Vipassana, you are observing the physical symptoms and sensations of the vehicle of your physical body.

Technology is an extension of our humanness. A car is an extension of our leg. Television is an extension of our eye.

So in the same way that the auto-mobile is an extension of our physical body, our physical body is an extension of our mind.

There are certain engines like a water pump that the way to cleanse it is to let it run by itself for a while. When you make it pump water, it performs work. This makes it get dirty, depending on where you are pumping water from. When you simply let it run by itself, it cleanses itself through a recursive process that is similar to gargling. By swirling the same water through it's system at a high velocity, it cleanses itself. 

The mind functions according to a recursive process. You can either start a virtuous cycle with our mind. Or we can start a vicious cycle. If our vicious cycle of programming causes suffering, the idea behind Vipassana is to start a virtuous cycle of programming to stop the suffering. In Vipassana, starting a virtuous cycle is simply an extension of stopping the vicious cycle. The process is the same. The virtuous cycle is ahead of the game of the vicious cycle. The more you do Vipassana, you realize this.

By simply observing the programming (awareness) and the buttons it pushes in you and by not reacting to the signals (by observing in equilibrium), you erase the effect of the old program in you. Interestingly, the more you don't react to the signals and simply observe in equilibrium, the more signals come to the surface for you to observe. So the more you don't react to the signals, the more opportunity you get to cleanse them.

So in terms of the automobile analogy we were giving above, the idea is that you are sitting in your car and observing all the vibrations, shuddering of the car. And the more you observe all these symptoms, as your senses gets trained, the more and more you become aware of the slightest changes in the operating procedure of your car. By simply not freaking out by any one symptom of the running engine, you train your eyes to pick out the subtlest of sounds or vibrations from the engine. Perhaps you might pick off the slightest odor of burning rubber or oil coming from the engine. By observing the running engine without any pre-conceived notions and by not getting ahead of yourself by jumping to conclusions, you can come close to being objective. In the same way that the doctor studies all the symptoms or a running body before trying to diagnose the nature of a dis-ease, you as an expert mechanic of your own body, study all the symptoms of the running engine. You train yourself to study all sensations without interpreting it in anyway. You simply train yourself to observe the sensations with equilibrium.

Vipassana is not about studying a dead body. Studying dead bodies is called anatomy and physiology. In Vipassana we are not interested in taking apart the engine of the car to study how the parts of the engine contributes towards the engine as a whole to work. In Vipassana, we are studying a running engine. We are trying to coach the engine to operate leaner, smoother and more efficiently.

A coach will work with an Olympic athlete to improve their operating procedure. By closely observing the form and techniques that the athlete is exhibiting, the coach slowly seeks to improve their performance. He seeks to make them operate leaner, smoother and more efficiently. The coach has a stringent eye on every detail of how the athlete operates to make him improve the over-all quality of how he functions.
Similarly, the Vipassana meditator becomes fanatic at observing the smallest details in his breathing to observe the subtlest of changes happening while air is being inhaled and exhaled from his nostrils. He does all of this to improve the over-all quality of how he functions. The cool thing about Vipassana is that the act of observing precisely itself improves the quality of how you function. It is a recursive process. The more you observe precisely, the more the quality of how you function improves. And then, the more the quality of how you function improves, the better you can observe the subtlest of symptoms.

In Vipassana, awareness of subtlety is what we are seeking. Why? Because the object that we are striving to study is the mind and consciousness. It is the quality of mind and consciousness that we are seeking to improve. It is the operating procedure of mind and consciousness that we are trying to make more lean. Mind and awareness has to be sufficiently sharp to grasp the subtle nature of mind and awareness. In Vipassana the process of acting to improve the nature of mind and consciousness itself improves the quality of mind and consciousness. Awareness cleanses awareness.

But since the mind is so subtle, it is very hard to observe itself. So what we do is observe the extension of the mind--the physical body. The physical body is a lot easier to observe because it is made of gross matter. It is concrete. We don't have to speculate the nature of the physical body. All we have to do is create a space where we can quietly focus on the physical symptoms of how it is running.

In a moving car, the physical body encases the running engine. In humans who are not dead, the physical body encases the running mind. The engine is the operating system of a car. The running mind is the operating system of the body.
If you hear a sound that you don't like that it is making, it is possible to drive it to the side of the road, park it, turn the engine off, pull open the hood and look inside the engine to see what is wrong.
But it is not possible to do that for every vehicle. For example, if you are flying an airplane and you don't like the vibrations that is coming from it's body or the sound coming from the engine, it is not possible to "pull-over to the side and park it, and open up it's hood."

Then what do you do? 

Remember, we can pull the body  "over to the side and park it, and open up it's hood." In many ways, during physical surgery, this is what we are doing. But what we are observing at that point is the hardware encasing. We are not observing our operating procedure. We cannot comment on the quality of the operation of the operating system.
To comment on the quality of the operating system and to improve operating procedure, the engine has to be on.  To comment on the quality of how Unix or Windows is working and to make software updates to it, the computer needs to be on. The software engineer needs to observe the symptoms that the operating system is exhibiting to diagnose the nature of the dis-ease of the operating system.Only then can he consider improving it.

The software engineer needs to coolly and calmly study all the symptoms that the operating system is exhibiting. He will use system monitors to study how the software is operating.

In the same way that position, velocity and acceleration can be expressed using calculus, in that same way, we can talk about the nature of awareness and the process of improving our awareness using calculus as an analogy.

There is a calculus of awareness to improve awareness. 

Awareness is the means (programming). Awareness is the end (code). And awareness is the procedure (programming technique). By improving the quality of all three, you improve the operating system of the mind. The more you improve upon the operating system of the mind, the more you improve the quality of awareness. Since awareness is the lens through which we see, the more you improve the quality of awareness, the more you improve upon what you can see. The whole thing is a recursive process.

If you run the programming synchronized with 'appropriate' reactions to stimuli, the programming is reinforced. This can happen by running the programming in our mind and fantasizing about the stimuli. Or it it could be that we are reacting to the world around us based on our inner programming and thus reinforcing it.

On the other hand, the more you run the programming without reacting to real or imagined stimuli, the programming is erased. In many ways, Vipassana is about pushing the buttons of the programming manually, knowing that there is no stimulus around to react to. And in this way neutralizing the programming.

So if Pavlov's dogs were doing Vipassana, basically they would be watching Pavlov ringing the bell (programming) and saying to themselves, "Yeah, we're not falling for that."
The dogs doing Vipassana would force Pavlov to sit there ringing the bell (programming) endlessly while the dogs would not salivate nor growl in aversion like in the comic strip below. The dogs would be in equilibrium and simply shrug at the dinner bell ringing with indifference. Their goal wouldn't be dinner. It would be Nirvana.

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