Heather Rae Butler of the UBR evaluates "Inner Pilgrimage"
I had the pleasure of meeting Raji in person and getting to speak with her about her new book. I was drawn to the idea of Vipassana meditation and was curious to know more. I am open to the idea of spirituality, and having read several books on Buddhism, I was interested in knowing more about how Vipassana fit into Buddhist philosophy. I was also looking forward to learning about what it was like to visit a Vipassana meditation retreat from a first-person point of view.
I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:
5. “Another challenge meditators face is having unrealistic expectations such as achieving instant peace, curing diseases, and attaining enlightenment, bliss, or divine ecstasy.” (p.44)
4. “I can no longer see or feel my body. Formless as I am, I find myself moving effortlessly, floating, gliding in the joyous nothingness of a grand immensity that appears to stretch to infinity.” (p.51)
3. “There is no peace or happiness in being lost in anger and blame. Avoidance leads to clinging, and unchecked clinging leads to aversion—a cause for suffering.” (p.94)
2. “Meditation helps acknowledge the internal chatter and confront the pain of raw emotions, which while exigent at first is ultimately liberating and rewarding.” (p.91)
…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…
1. “I’m no longer just the person sitting in the dhamma hall, meditating. I’m also the cushions and the blankets and the fellow meditators and the dhamma hall. I feel the energy in the dhamma hall rippling through me.” (p.55)
Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.
New Word: austere (adjective)
Definition (Source: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Ed): 1) the quality or state of being austere; 2) an austere act, manner, or attitude; 3) enforced or extreme economy Synonyms: authoritarian, flinty, hard, harsh, rigid, rigorous, stern, strict Origins: 1300–50; Middle English ‘austerite’ As in: “My lips glaze into a smile with the realization that this isn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet. ‘I’m here to practice austerity,’ I remind myself. ‘I can do this.’ ” (p.
New Word: indomitable (adjective)
Definition (Source: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Ed): incapable of being subdued, unconquerable Synonyms: bulletproof, invincible, unstoppable, unbeatable Origins: late Latin ‘indomitabilis’; from Latin ‘in- + domitare’ to tame As in: “Armed with an indomitable spirit, a large tote in one hand and a suitcase in the other, I amble up the gravel path, giddy, sincere, and ready to begin my inner journey.” (p.10)
New Word: enervated (verb)
Definition (Source: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Ed): 1) to reduce the mental or moral vigor of; 2) to lessen the vitality or strength of Synonyms: damp, deaden, geld, petrify Origins: Latin ‘enervatus’ As in: “I’m enervated as the rest of the day passes. Following the end of the session, I trudge down to the dining hall, my head lowered, my legs cringing with each strenuous step. My body is fatigued.” (p.57)
Conversation with the Reader
While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:
“The first thing I notice about the writing of the book is the amount of detailed description provided. I am able to visualize the tall trees, vast blue sky, rustling of leaves, the buzzing of bees, and the warmth of the sunshine. I am also able to see the cramped simple space of the living quarters and the #53 cushion she sat on in the back of the meditation room each day.”
“Inner conflict accompanies Raji as she begins the retreat. From the meal and sleeping arrangements, to how other participants interact, and I can understand her feelings. There have been times in the past when I have not been comfortable with situations and surroundings and experienced my own inner conflicts. When I studied abroad in an unfamiliar country, I often felt the same types of conflicts.
“Becoming a part of a new culture, whether at a small retreat or in another country has its challenges, and instead of skimming over the surface, Raji does a good job of letting us know what those challenges felt like to her. Her honesty when describing her experience is part of why this book is so genuine and unique. I am anticipating how she will deal with these conflicts and how, or if, she will overcome them.”
“I am able to sympathize with Raji’s struggles about attending a retreat for 10 full days in complete silence, without access to technology, not being able to read or write, or have any communication with the outside world. According to Raji, one purpose of Vispassa meditation is to develop a mastery over the mind, and the practice of silence helps remove energy-draining verbal chatter so that the ‘energy can be rechanneled for more productive uses’ (p.19).
“Raji admits in the preface of the book, as well as in our interview, that she had no intention of writing a book when she first went to the retreat, and that it was after the retreat was over that she was inspired to write it. Perhaps this is an example of the manifestation of the rechanneling of that creativity energy.”
“I am noticing how the book is very much a merging or intertwining of memoir and spiritual textbook. Footnotes are included, along with definitions of meditation terms and practices. While these are not necessary to understand Raji’s experience, they provide a little extra information—something that is usually not included in other memoirs similar to this.”
“I notice a strong desire for Raji to connect with nature, and the role it seems to play in her spiritual awakening and in the practices of the retreat. Each time she goes outside, she interacts in a new way with nature, and she describes each in great detail. This is something I can tell really stuck with Raji long after she left the retreat, and she even made mention of how nature affected her when we met for the interview.”
“As Raji starts her mediation practices, I am connected with her inner thoughts and her struggle to maintain focus as a beginning meditation practitioner. I am with her as she starts to experience unexplainable feelings and pains that meditation can bring to the surface. I have often wondered how hard it would be to sit and meditate for long periods of time and Raji’s experience has helped me see into that process. While her desire for spiritual guidance is one that I can relate to since I have also had that urge for spiritual completeness and that feeling that something was missing in my life, I don’t think I would be ready for the type of discipline required of a participant in a Vipassana retreat; I can hardly sit in silence for more than 5 minutes! I can see myself almost going mad trying to get rid of all of my thoughts for several days in a row.”
“As the retreat requires silence and no interaction between participants, the dialog that takes place is all within Raji’s thoughts and inner voice. The conversations and reflections she has with herself are an important aspect of the book, and provide the reader with an even greater understanding of her experience at the retreat—much more, I feel, than if she were to interact with others. From her inner dialogue, I learn a lot about Raji’s personality, as if I have known her for years.”
“I see this book as a guide for the new or beginning meditator. Those who have experience and intermediate knowledge of Vipassana meditation would benefit from her personal experiences at the retreat, but the definitions and footnotes are geared towards the amateur. This book would also benefit those who are curious about the practice of Vipassana meditation, or those who have been to a similar retreat and would like to compare their silent experiences with those of their peers.”