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Self-Observation and Self-Correction
 
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Self-Observation and Self-Correction
- by S. N. Goenka

(Goenkaji came to North Rehabilitation Facility (NRF) in Seattle, Washington in the summer of 2002 during his North American tour. He met the course students and others on mettā day and later addressed the Day 11 assembly gathered for the last men’s course to be held there. His address has been edited and adapted for the Newsletter.)

Friends, I am so glad to be here with you all this morning. You have given this technique a good trial and you have received good results. Now you have to maintain the practice, and apply it in day-to-day life. Merely taking a course of ten days is not sufficient although it is very important. You learned the technique by practicing under an experienced guide. Now, applying it in life is very important. Nobody else can correct you; you have to correct yourself; you have to develop self-awareness. Keep examining yourself; keep correcting yourself.

You have two great friends to help you. One friend is your own respiration and the other is sensations on your body. More and more, as you become established in this technique, these two friends will be there to help you throughout your life. Whenever the mind becomes unbalanced with some negativity, you will notice that your breath loses its normality. It will be slightly hard, slightly fast. It is giving you a warning, "Look, something is wrong in your mind!" And you will try to make your mind more balanced.

The second good guide and friend is your sensations, physical sensations, which you have learned about in these ten days. Whenever you find you are generating any negativity, it will become so clear that you are the first victim of your negativity. As soon as you generate anger, hatred, illwill, animosity, being a good Vipassana meditator, you will notice there is a burning sensation throughout the body. The heartbeat increases, tensions build up. Misery! "Look, I am making myself miserable!"

Immediately, you start observing the sensations, observing the breath, with equanimity. You try to maintain perfect balance of the mind, perfect equilibrium of the mind, and you find that you are coming out of the negativity. Your mind becomes purer and purer, and the law of nature is such that when the mind is pure it becomes full of love, compassion, goodwill, tolerance. These qualities will arise, provided the purity of mind is maintained.

Not that in ten days, you will become so perfect that there will be no more defilements. Oh no! The old habit patterns are still there, they continue to arise, but now you have a technique that will help you to come out of them. Don’t allow them to multiply and overpower you. When you are unaware of what is happening deep inside you will only see things happening outside: "Someone has insulted me." That thought becomes predominant in your mind, and you keep thinking, "So and so has insulted me; that’s why I am generating anger."

You generate anger to retaliate, to take revenge, to harm this person without understanding that you have started harming yourself. You can’t harm anybody without first harming yourself. You have to generate some defilement or other in your mind to harm somebody and whenever you generate any defilement in the mind, say anger, hatred, illwill, passion, fear, ego, then you become miserable. You don’t want to harm yourself. And yet, out of ignorance, without knowing what is happening at the depth of the mind, you keep generating impurity after impurity, defilement after defilement, more and more anger, hatred, jealousy, ego. And the sensations that you get at that time make you feel very miserable.

Before learning Vipassana, you used to react in a certain way in a situation. Now, a similar situation has arisen, ask yourself, "Am I reacting in the same way or has some positive change developed in my behaviour?" Now with self-awareness and self-examination, you are your own master. Nobody else can correct you, you have to correct yourself. It is not necessary for anybody else to warn you.

You have to warn yourself, "Oh, look, what I am doing is so harmful. I am harming myself. I can’t harm anybody else without harming myself. When I generate negativity, I become so miserable and I keep on throwing this misery on others. Anyone who comes in contact with me at that time becomes miserable. The entire atmosphere becomes so tense. Full of misery! Throughout my life, I have continued harming myself and harming others. This is not the proper way of life.

When I am free of these negativities, my mind is pure, full of love, compassion, goodwill. I feel so much peace and harmony. The entire atmosphere around me becomes permeated with the vibrations of peace and harmony. Anybody who comes in contact with me starts to experience peace and harmony. This is the correct way of life."

Now, morning and evening-you must practice every day. Just as when you learn to do any kind of physical exercise but don’t practice it, it won’t be of any help to you, so this technique, this mental exercise, will not be of help to you unless you practice regularly.

The technique you have learned during this course is an invaluable jewel that will help you throughout your life. Maintain it and keep progressing on the path. I would advise those of you who have not experienced this technique to spare ten days of your life. Don’t assume that those who are in prison are the only prisoners. Those who are outside the walls of the prison are also prisoners. Everyone is a prisoner of the unwholesome habit patterns of their mind at the deepest level. Come out of this prison! Come out of the defilements and enjoy life! You will find such a big change in your life. With my experience, I found I gained so much peace, it was a total change of life. I wanted to share my peace and harmony with others, and now thousands of people around the world are sharing it. They are practicing, they are getting the same results. This technique helps you to become very peaceful. It is good for you and good for others.

Staff and inmates, even those who had never taken a course, appreciated the extraordinary nature of this event and found a shared sense of gratitude and optimism. Many former inmates who had taken their first Vipassana course at NRF returned to see Goenkaji and thank him. After the reception, Goenkaji met staff members, old students and their families in the jail library. Some people took the opportunity to meet him and ask questions or express their gratitude, others watched quietly, staying until Goenkaji left. That day, no one expressed any regrets or concerns about NRF’s imminent closure, only gratitude for benefits received and hopefulness for the future.

Several former NRF residents took the opportunity to tell how Vipassana has positively impacted their lives:

One male student said: "I took the course here at NRF. Through the course, I’ve learned the Vipassana meditation technique and it puts my mind at peace. When I left NRF, I was transferred to another prison, another jail. I was put in confinement where it was pretty isolated. I contacted Dhamma Kuñja and they sent me many pamphlets and information. I sat and meditated in the morning and evening, pretty much a lot of time all day. And I read my journal and books. I noticed I was being treated differently by the guards. Other inmates were coming up to me and asking, ’What do you have?’ So I talked about Vipassana with them and told them that this is an ancient teaching that has been handed down through the ages in its purest form. I have not been in one bit of trouble since I’ve been out of prison. I’ve followed the path of right speech, right action, right thought. I’ve taken care of business and made the practice of Vipassana my Dhamma."

Another old male student: "I had been drunk all my life before taking the first Vipassana course at NRF in 1997. Since then I have not had a fight, not a drink. I have a family life. My family appreciates you so much."


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