The Deepest Freedom – Dipa Ma

The Deepest Freedom

“Gradually I became acquainted with suffering,

the cause of suffering,

the arising of suffering,

and the end of suffering.”

DIPA MA BELIEVED, unconditionally, that enlightenment—total liberation of the mind and heart—is the purpose of human life and the primary reason for meditation practice. She never tired of reminding her students: “You must practice to know at least one stage of enlightenment. Otherwise you have not made use of your human life.”

In the Theravada tradition, little is written about the actual experience of enlightenment. The reticence of many teachers on this subject is largely to avoid setting up an attitude of striving. This chapter brings enlightenment experiences out into the open, with the aim of showing that there is nothing secret or supernatural about them. Although it might be inferred from these stories that enlightenment can happen rather easily, there are also stories of awakening taking many years or even decades.

While there is no “right way” on this path, and consequently nothing to judge, compare, or anticipate, Joseph Goldstein offers this important caveat: “The experience of enlightenment is about letting go of ‘self.’ Over the years, I’ve seen people who have experienced enlightenment use it to create more self. They attach to the experience and identify with it. This is missing the point, and it can create a lot of suffering.”

Kamikaze yogi

My first two three-month retreats were blasting through, “bliss bomb”–type retreats, where I described myself as a kamikaze yogi. But my third three-month retreat was weeping from the first day until the end. At times, I would have such incredible internal aching and tearing apart that I thought I couldn’t sit more than five minutes. At first, when I reported this to Dipa Ma, she suggested I just “note it.”

But finally there was a certain point where I really thought I was going to explode if I sat any longer. Dipa Ma sat down next to me, took my hand, held it and caressed it with love and gentleness, like caressing a baby. While she was doing this, she assured me, “If you make it through this, you will earn great merit.”

Doing this, she gave me an absolute transmission of her confidence and love. My doubt disappeared; I totally believed her words. I went back to the hall and sat on my cushion, and . . . something just opened up. I don’t know how much I should describe of it. I started to have experiences like you see in the classical texts on enlightenment. She was guiding me with special resolutions during this time.

I am grateful that she kept me practicing. Even though for two and a half months I was racked with restlessness and achiness and wanted to “roll up the mat” and go home, she kept me going.

-Anonymous

Did you get enlightened?

Dipa Ma came to teach a class at my school for three weeks. At the end of the class, we were to do a weekend intensive retreat with her. The day before the intensive she said to me, “You are going to have a ‘realization experience’.” I wondered, “What is this supposed to mean?”

That night, I meditated for a while, and then I got up because I was getting very sleepy. I went back to my room, and something shifted. I realized I needed to go back and meditate some more, so I went back to meditate, and I got extremely concentrated.

There was simply the watching of my breath. I was noting every microcosm of the rising and falling, every little bit, and I had the ability to watch the intentions of thoughts coming. It was like a bubble that would break, then the thought would be there, then it would pass, and there would be stillness, then another intention of the thought would arise, then break like a bubble on the surface of water and so on. It was not me doing this, because I absolutely had no capacity for that level of concentration. I think it was simply by Dipa Ma’s grace. There was incredible stillness, and a huge amount of space in between thoughts where nothing was going on.

Then there was a huge shift in awareness, as if I went “out” somewhere where attention reversed. There was no body anymore, just the arising and passing away of things. It completely blew me away.

The next day Dipa Ma asked me, “Well, did you get enlightened?” Later, because I was so new at meditation—I didn’t have a background or context for this experience—a lot of fear came up. First there was this incredible insight, then fear arose when I saw that everything was being annihilated moment after moment. My mind became so confused; I didn’t have the ability to watch the confusion, and it was a long time before the experience matured in me. It was three years before I had the desire to meditate again.

-Anonymous

Enlightenment was rather matter-of-fact to Dipa Ma’s Indian students. Jack Engler recalls that they practiced within the context of their families and daily life. “When Dipa Ma recognized a certain kind of ripeness in them, she would say, ‘Arrange your affairs, see if you can get two weeks off from the family, and come and stay in this room next to me and just devote yourself for ten or fourteen days to this practice.’ That’s when enlightenment happened to them. That is all the intensive practice they did, and even then, some of them had to return home during that time to take care of family matters.”

Just two or three days

I took my mother [Dipa Ma’s sister Hema] every evening to the monastery, and once I met a Burmese lady there who told me about her practice at home with her small children. She worked in the day, and she did meditation at night when her children were asleep. Within two months, she said, she finished the first stage [of enlightenment].

So I took that example while I was teaching full time and studying in my master’s program. I got up at 4 AM and meditated until 5:30 AM. I went to school until 3:30 PM, then I took my mother to the monastery. After that I would do my homework until 9 PM. Then I would do walking meditation for an hour with my dog. Then I would sit for another hour until 11 PM. At 11, I went to sleep.

All the time, on the bus to school, during my classes, everywhere, I practiced noting [mentally noting each sensory experience]. After about two or three weeks, Munindra told me to take my vacation and come and meditate. I told him it was impossible to take time off school, and he said, “Well, just two or three days will do.” So I went for Thursday through Sunday. Since there was so little time, I decided to stay up all night Thursday, and I kept meditating into Friday.

On Friday night at about 1 AM, I thought something “went wrong.” In the morning, I told my mother and Dipa Ma that something strange had happened. They started laughing and laughing. They told me it was the first stage, and they were very glad for me.

-Daw Than Myint

Okay, a tiger is coming

On the very first day I met her, Nani [Dipa Ma] gave me meditation instructions and told me, “You can practice at home.” I went home that afternoon and immediately started practicing for twenty days. During the twenty days of meditation, I felt I had a high fever, I felt like a hot iron was penetrating my body. Then I saw snakes everywhere, and tigers were jumping at me. I reported this to Nani, and she told me, “Don’t worry. Don’t take any medicine. You have a fever, but it is not a disease: it will spontaneously leave. Just be mindful of it. Just feel it and note it. When snakes or tigers come, don’t worry. Just notice, ‘Okay, a tiger is coming.’ That is all.”

Then I began having vivid pictures of dead bodies. I saw many, many dead bodies in an arid place, and I had to walk on the dead bodies. I was terrified. Nani said, “Don’t fear. Just make a mental note of ‘seeing.’ These visions are from our many births. What we have done in previous births often comes to mind in meditation.” From her instruction, I noted, “seeing a dead body,” and “walking on dead bodies.” I also kept noting, “I’m seeing in my mind.”

Soon there was just awareness, everything stopped, my mind became clear and peaceful, and I came to awaken. All my pains were eradicated. I came to understand what was my body, what was my mind, and what was the way of meditation. There was no turning back. After twenty days, I left my seat and went out into the world.

-Jyotishmoyee Barua

This most precious thing

When I was doing my research in Calcutta, Dipa Ma brought her neighbor to me, a sixty-five-year-old woman whose name was Madhuri Lata. She had raised her family, her children were gone, and, unlike most Indian families, she was alone with her husband, with no extended family living in the same household. Her husband had said to her, “You have nothing to do now. This ‘aunt’ of yours, Dipa Ma, teaches this meditation practice. Why don’t you talk with her? It’ll give you something to do.”

Madhuri, who had mild developmental delays, went to Dipa Ma, and Dipa Ma gave her the basic instructions [to place her attention on the rise and fall of the abdomen with each inhalation and exhalation and] to note to herself “rising, falling, rising, falling.” Madhuri said, “Okay,” and started to go home, down four flights of stairs and across the alley to her apartment. She didn’t get halfway down the stairs before she forgot the instructions. So, back she came. “What was I supposed to do?” she asked. “Rising, falling, rising, falling,” said Dipa Ma. “Oh, yes, that’s right.”

Four times, Madhuri forgot the instructions and had to come back. Dipa Ma was very patient with her. It took Madhuri almost a year to understand the basic instructions, but once she got them, she was like a tiger. Before she began to practice, Madhuri was bent over at a ninety-degree angle with arthritis, rheumatism, and intestinal problems. When I met her, after her enlightenment experience, she walked with a straight back. No more intestinal problems. She was the simplest, sweetest, gentlest woman. After she told me her enlightenment story, she said, “All this time, I’ve wanted to tell someone about this wonderful thing that happened to me, and I’ve never been able to share this before, this most precious thing in my life.”

-Jack Engler

All emotion is from thinking

Despite severe emotional difficulties, a Vietnamese monk, Venerable Khippa-Panno, was able to attain insight with Dipa Ma’s encouragement. In 1969, he had gone on a retreat during which, for five days, he was unable to stop laughing and crying. His teacher, deciding Khippa-Panno had gone mad, told him to stop the retreat and return home. When Dipa Ma heard this, she invited Khippa-Panno to practice with her.

For a whole month, I practiced at her house. She advised me, “You will overcome this difficulty. If everything is noted, all your emotional difficulties will disappear. When you feel happy, don’t get involved with the happiness. And when you feel sad, don’t get involved with it. Whatever comes, don’t worry. Just be aware of it.” On a later retreat, when I felt the craziness come, I remembered her words. I had so much difficulty with the emotions that I wanted to leave the retreat, but I remembered her faith in me, and her saying, “Your practice is good. Just note everything, and you will overcome the difficulty.” With this knowledge of her confidence in me, my concentration got deeper. Soon I came to see that all emotion was from thinking, nothing more. I found that once I knew how to observe the thoughts that led to the emotions, I could overcome them. And then I came to see that all thoughts were from the past or the future, so I started to live only in the present, and I developed more and more mindfulness. . . . I had no thoughts for a period of time, just mindfulness, and then all my emotional difficulties passed away. Just like that! And then I had an experience. I wasn’t sure what it was. It was only a moment, and there wasn’t anyone to confirm it at the time. My emotional problems have never returned. Later, in 1984, when I saw Dipa Ma in America, she took me aside and asked about my meditation. When I told her, she told me that I had completed the first stage [of enlightenment]. She told me like a mother would tell a child. -Venerable Khippa-Panno

From Dipa Ma, Chapter Six, Schmidt, Amy. Windhorse Publications Ltd. Kindle Edition.

 

Meditation is Love – Dipa Ma

Meditation is love.” Dipa Ma

Dipa Ma Barua was a Buddhist Icon and Master Teacher.

Dipa Ma was a woman of extraordinary wisdom, concentration, and loving kindness. She was a rare example of a mother and grandmother who became a realized Buddhist Master through her unwavering determination and heart. Dipa Ma taught many of the Vipassana Buddhist teachers in the West, and the stories about her continue to inspire Buddhists and spiritual seekers today.

 

About Dipa Ma

Born 1911- Died 1989

Taught Vipassana Buddhism in Myanmar/Burma, India and USA.

Gotama Buddha’s familiar story follows the archetypal hero’s journey: he left behind wife and child and renounced the ordinary world to seek the holy life. Dipa Ma followed a similar path, but with an unexpected turn. Ultimately she took her practice home again, living out her enlightenment in a simple city apartment with her daughter. Her responsibilities as a parent were clarified by her spiritual practice; she made decisions based not on guilt and obligation but on the wisdom and compassion that arose from meditation. Instead of withdrawing to a cave or a forest hermitage, Dipa Ma stayed home and taught from her bedroom—appropriately enough, a room with no door.

Nani Bala Barua, later known as Dipa Ma, was born in 1911 in a village on the plains of Chittagong in what is now Bangladesh. The indigenous Buddhist culture there traces its lineage in an unbroken line back to the Buddha. By the time Dipa Ma was born, meditation practice had almost disappeared among her clan, but they continued to observe Buddhist rituals and customs.

Though intensely interested in Buddhism from a young age, like most Asian women of her era Dipa Ma had little opportunity to undertake serious spiritual training. However, by midlife she came to devote herself fully to meditation, attaining profound levels of insight in only a short time. She found a way to incorporate her family into her spiritual journey and went on to teach specific techniques for practicing mindfulness in the midst of everyday activities.

Dipa Ma’s influence has been widely felt in the West, in part due to her relationship with the three founders of the Insight Meditation Society. She was a primary teacher of Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, as well as one of Jack Kornfield’s teachers. Kornfield recalls that Dipa Ma’s first questions were always, “How are you feeling? How is your health? Are you eating well?” No matter who showed up or what state they were in, Dipa Ma reached out to them with love. Both Salzberg and Goldstein call her “the most loving person I have ever met.”

IMS teacher Michele McDonald-Smith considers meeting Dipa Ma a turning point in her life. “At the time I met her,” McDonald-Smith says, “there were mostly male role models—male teachers, male buddhas. To meet a woman householder who lived with her daughter and grandson—and who was that enlightened—it was more profound than I can put into words. She embodied what I deeply wanted to be like. For me as a woman householder, I immediately felt, ‘If she can do this, I can do this, too.’”

For lay people who are committed to dharma practice but unlikely to leave home, work and family to live in a temple or monastery, Dipa Ma is a vivid example of what is possible. Even the name she went by suggests her identity as an enlightened householder. After giving birth in middle age to a much-longed-for child, a daughter named Dipa, Nani Bala Barua got the nickname “Dipa Ma,” meaning “mother of Dipa.” The word dipa means “light or lamp of the dharma,” thus the name “mother of light” united the two salient features of her life—dharma and motherhood.

Dipa Ma’s early life followed the expected path of a village girl in East Bengal. At age twelve, she married Rajani Ranjan Barua, an engineer twice her age, who left one week after their wedding to take a job in Burma. After two lonely years in her in-laws’ home, she was sent to Rangoon to join her husband. To the couple’s great disappointment, the young Dipa Ma was unable to become pregnant and to add to this difficulty, her mother died while she was still adjusting to her new life. Although she was eventually able to bear children, she lost two as infants and then fell seriously ill herself. Through it all, Rajani was patient, loving, and wise. The couple adopted her much younger brother, Bijoy, and Rajani suggested to his grieving wife that she treat every person she met as her own child.

Dipa Ma raised her younger brother, gave birth to Dipa, and looked after her husband. However, in her mid-forties, after Bijoy had grown up and left home, Rajani died suddenly, leaving Dipa Ma devastated. For several years she was confined to her bed with heart disease and hypertension, scarcely able to care for herself and her young daughter, and she believed she would soon die if she did not find a way to free herself from her burden of grief. She resolved to learn meditation, convinced it was the only way she could save herself. Soon after, she dreamed of the Buddha softly chanting these verses from the Dhammapada:

Piyato jayati soko,
piyato jayati bhayam
piyato vippamuttassa,
natthi soko kuto bhayam.

Clinging to what is dear brings sorrow.
Clinging to what is dear brings fear.
To one who is entirely free from endearment
There is no sorrow or fear.

Awakening from the dream, Dipa Ma felt a calm determination to devote herself fully to meditation practice. She turned over everything she had been left by her husband to a neighbor, whom she asked to care for her daughter, and arranged to go to the Kamayut Meditation Center in Rangoon, intending to spend the rest of her life there.

Early in the morning during her first day at the center, Dipa Ma was given a room and basic instructions and told to report to the meditation hall late that afternoon. As she sat in meditation through the day, her concentration rapidly deepened. Later, on her way to the meditation hall, she suddenly found herself unable to move. For several minutes, she couldn’t even lift a foot, which puzzled her. Finally she realized that a dog had clamped its teeth around her leg and wouldn’t let go. Amazingly, her concentration had become so deep even in those first few hours of practice that she had felt no pain. Eventually, the dog was pulled away by some monks. Dipa Ma went to a hospital for rabies injections and then returned home to recuperate.

Once home, her distraught daughter would not allow her to leave again. With her characteristic practicality and resourcefulness, Dipa Ma recognized that her spiritual journey would have to take a different form. Using the instructions given at her short retreat, she patiently meditated at home, committing herself to the diligent practice of awareness, moment by moment.

After several years, Munindra, a family friend who lived nearby, encouraged Dipa Ma, then fifty-three years old, to come to the meditation center where he was studying under the renowned teacher Mahasi Sayadaw. By her third day there, Dipa Ma entered into much deeper concentration. Her need for sleep vanished, along with her desire to eat. In the following days, she passed through the classic phases of the “progress of insight,” which precede enlightenment. On reaching the first stage, her blood pressure returned to normal, her heart palpitations decreased dramatically, and the weakness that had made her unable to climb stairs was replaced with a healthy vigor. Finally, as the Buddha had predicted in her dream, the grief she had carried for so long vanished.

For the rest of the year, Dipa Ma went back and forth between home and the meditation center, where she rapidly progressed through further stages of enlightenment. (As described in the Visuddhimagga, the Theravada tradition recognizes four such stages, each producing distinct, recognizable changes in the mind.) People who knew her were fascinated by her change from a sickly, grief-stricken woman to a calm, strong, healthy, radiant being.

Inspired by this transformation, Dipa Ma’s friends and family including her daughter, joined her at the meditation center. One of the first to arrive was Dipa Ma’s sister, Hema. Although Hema had eight children, with five still living at home, she managed to make time to practice with her sister for almost a year. During school breaks, the two middle-aged mothers would have as many as six children between them. They lived together as a family, but followed strict retreat discipline, practicing silence, no eye contact, and no eating after noon.

In 1967, the Burmese government ordered all foreign nationals to leave the country. The monks assured Dipa Ma that she could get special permission to stay, an unprecedented honor for a woman and single mother, someone with essentially no standing in society. However, though she wanted to stay in Rangoon, Dipa Ma decided to go to Calcutta, where her daughter would have better social and educational opportunities.

Their new living conditions were modest, even by Calcutta standards. They lived in a small room above a metal-grinding shop in the center of the city. They had no running water, their stove was a charcoal burner on the floor, and they shared a toilet with another family. Dipa Ma slept on a thin straw mat.

Soon word spread in Calcutta that an accomplished meditation teacher had come from Burma. Women trying to fit spiritual training in between the endless demands of managing their households appeared at Dipa Ma’s apartment during the day, seeking instruction. She obliged by offering individualized teaching tailored to full lives—but with no concessions to busyness.

Dipa Ma’s long career of guiding householders had already begun in Burma. One of her first students, Malati, was a widow and a single mother who was caring for six young children. Dipa Ma devised practices Malati could do without leaving her children, such as bringing complete presence of mind to the sensation of her infant nursing at her breast. Just as Dipa Ma had hoped, by practicing mindfulness when she nursed her baby Malati attained the first stage of enlightenment.

In Calcutta, Dipa Ma addressed similar situations again and again. Sudipti was struggling to run a business while caring for a mentally ill son and an invalid mother. Dipa Ma instructed her in Vipassana practice, but Sudipti insisted that she couldn’t find time for meditation because she had so many family and business responsibilities. Dipa Ma told Sudipti that when she found herself thinking about family or business, she could simply think about them mindfully. “Human beings will never solve all their problems,” she taught. “The only way is to bring mindfulness to whatever you are suffering. And if you can manage only five minutes of meditation a day, you should do that.”

At their first meeting, Dipa Ma asked Sudipti if she could meditate right then and there for five minutes. “So I sat with her for five minutes,” Sudipti recalls. “Then she gave me instructions in meditation anyway, even though I said I had no time. Somehow I found five minutes a day, and I followed her instructions. And from this five minutes, I became so inspired. I was able to find longer and longer times to meditate, and soon I was meditating many hours a day, into the night, sometimes all night, after my work was done. I found energy and time I didn’t know I had.”

Another Indian student, Dipak, remembers Dipa Ma teasing him: “Oh, you are coming from the office; your mind must be very busy.” But then she would fiercely command him to change his mind. “I told her that working in a bank there was a lot of calculating, and that my mind was always restless,” said Dipak. “It was impossible to practice; I was too busy.” Dipa Ma was firm, however, insisting that, “If you are busy, then busyness is the meditation. And when you do calculations, know that you are doing calculations. Meditation is always possible, at any time. If you are rushing to the office, then you should be mindful of rushing.”

Householder practice under Dipa Ma could be as demanding as monastic life. Loving but tough, Dipa Ma asked that students follow the five precepts and sleep only four hours a night, as she did. Students meditated several hours a day, reported to her several times a week, and at her instigation undertook self-guided retreats. Joseph Goldstein recalls how the last time he saw Dipa Ma, she told him he should sit for two days—meaning not a two-day retreat but one sitting for two days straight. “I started to laugh, because it seemed so beyond my capacity. But she looked at me with deep compassion, and she just said, ‘Don’t be lazy!’”

Dipa Ma’s path wasn’t attached to a particular place, teacher, lifestyle, or the monastic model. The world was her monastery; mothering and teaching were her practice. She embraced family and meditation as one, in a heart that steadfastly refused to make divisions in life. “She told me, ‘Being a wife, being a mother—these were my first teachers,’” recalls Sharon Kreider, a mother who studied with Dipa Ma. “She taught me that whatever we do, whether one is a teacher, a wife, a mother—they are all noble. They are all equal.”

Dipa Ma became not only the “patron saint of householders,” as one student called her, but also the embodiment of being the practice rather than doing the practice. For Dipa Ma there was simply the practice of being present, being fully awake, all the time, in every situation; she was a living demonstration that the real nature of mind is presence. Joseph Goldstein said that with Dipa Ma there was no sense of someone trying to be mindful; there was just mindfulness doing itself.

“Her mind didn’t make distinctions,” says meditation teacher Jacqueline Mandell. “Meditation, mothering, and practice all flowed into each other in an effortless way. They were all the same. They were one whole. There were no special places to practice, no special circumstances, no special anything. Everything was dhamma.” She urged her students to make every moment count and emphasized bringing mindfulness to cooking, ironing, talking, or any other daily activity. She often said that the whole path of mindfulness is simply awareness of whatever you are doing. “Always know what you are doing,” she would say. “You cannot separate meditation from life.”

While some teachers make the greatest impact through their words, with Dipa Ma it was, Mandell says, “her natural agile attention: shifting from teaching meditation to parenting to grand-parenting to serving tea. A simple presence: all seemed quite ordinary within her completely natural way.” Though Dipa Ma was generous with her instruction, she was often silent or spoke only a few simple words; her students found refuge in her silence and in the unshakeable peace that surrounded her.

By the time she died in 1989, Dipa Ma had several hundred Calcutta students and a large group of Western followers. A continual stream of visitors came to her apartment from early morning until late at night. She never refused anyone. When her daughter urged her to take more time for herself, Dipa Ma would reply, “They are hungry for the dhamma, so let them come.”

Dipa Ma is remembered not only for her seamless mindfulness and her direct instruction, but also for transmitting dharma through blessings. From the moment she arose each morning she blessed everything she came in contact with, including animals and even inanimate objects. She blessed every person she met from head to toe, blowing on them and chanting and stroking their hair. Her students remember being bathed in love, a feeling so strong and deep they didn’t ever want it to end. To this day, one of Dipa Ma’s students, Sandip Mutsuddi, carries her picture in his shirt pocket over his heart. Several times a day, he pulls the picture out to help him remember her lessons and to offer his respect. He has been doing this every day since her death.

Lay practitioners often feel torn between spiritual practice and the requirements of family, work, and social life. We know that our recurrent dilemmas cannot be resolved by separating parts of our lives and weighing one against the other, yet we become easily lost in that moment of dilemma. Perhaps the image of Dipa Ma can reside in our hearts as a reminder that we do not have to choose. Each dilemma can be accepted as a gift, challenging us to find, again and again and yet again, the middle way in which nothing is outside of our compassion. And perhaps the very process of opening to such challenges will produce a form of family practice that reflects how the dharma can be lived in our particular time and place.

(Originally published in Buddhadharma Magazine, Spring 2003, by Amy Schmidt and Sara Jenkins) http://www.lionsroar.com/mother-of-light-the-inspiring-story-of-dipa-ma/

All of this and more can be found at dipama.com.