Letter from New Delhi
Cut off from the world, sitting hungry and isolated in a dark and damp cave for two weeks, how did twelve Thai soccer team, aged between 11 to 16 years, survive? They were exploring a cave in Northern Thailand when a sudden flood due to heavy rains flooded the cave and they were stranded with their coach.
This question confronts many people worldwide as they watched the rescue efforts by Navy SEALS on TV and hoped for their survival.
Old picture of Ekapol Chanthawong, the coach of the Wild Boars football team, with his students
The short answer is: they meditated.
Yes, meditation helped them to go inwards and escape the confined cave. It also helped them to go beyond their bodies to experience stillness and calm; and above all, accept their situation totally.
The key factor in this case is their coach, 25-year-old Ekapol Chanthawong, who had meditated for around ten years as a Buddhist monk. He guided the boys into meditation when they needed it the most.
Instead of being frightened and depressed, the boys were calm and composed. Since Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country with 94.6 per cent of the people following Buddhism, they most probably practised Vipassana meditation.
This is a method devised by Buddha which focuses on awareness on the breath. This technique helped the boys remain alive for 17 desperate days, trapped in a flooded cave.
After more than 288 hours since Ekapol and the boys got trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave by monsoon floodwaters on 23 June after they went exploring, the group was discovered on 2 July after 10 days totally cut off from the outside world. They were cold, weak, and alone, more than two and a half miles deep inside the cave network.
When the rescuers found this group, instead of screaming, crying or shouting, the boys were sitting quietly in the dark and meditating. Their secret weapon? Vipassana.
Vipassana is eminently suitable for this situation as it does not involve any movement of the body and is uniquely suited to enable people to cope with extreme tension and/or stress.
Vipassana is about watching the breath after closing your eyes. Watching it going outside. Then pause. And watching the gap. Now watching it coming inside. Pause. And watching the gap. Now watching it going outside. And so, on and on.
Soon you go beyond your body, and later you stop thinking as you watch your breath and thus go beyond your mind too. This relaxes you fully. Thus, sitting in that dark cave, the boys were free from all tensions in their peaceful inner space.
Osho says, “Meditation is rest, absolute rest, a full stop to all activity – physical, mental, emotional. When you are in such a deep rest that nothing stirs in you, when all action as such ceases – as if you are fast asleep yet awake – you come to know who you are. Suddenly the window opens. It cannot be opened by effort because effort creates tension – and tension is the cause of our whole misery. Hence this is something very fundamental to be understood that meditation is not effort.”
Even more pertinently, Osho says in ‘The Book of Wisdom’, “The teaching of the Buddhas is: Find time and a place to remain unoccupied. That’s what meditation is all about. Find at least one hour every day to sit silently doing nothing, utterly unoccupied, just watching whatsoever passes by inside. In the beginning you will be very sad, looking at things inside you; you will feel only darkness and nothing else, and ugly things and all kinds of black holes appearing. You will feel agony, no ecstasy at all. But if you persist, persevere, the day comes when all these agonies disappear, and behind the agonies is the ecstasy.”
There you have it. And, you don’t have to get trapped in a cave to start Vipassana meditation.
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
* Published in print edition on 13 July 2018