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Mitra Upakram - Anapana Meditation for 25 million School Children



"Our most important duty is to make the mind healthy, and prevent it from harmful thinking patterns. Our entire effort is towards understanding the nature of our mind, and correcting it instantly if it goes on the wrong path." 
- Sayagyi U Goenka, answering questions from children practicing Anapana

Mitra Upakram - Anapana Meditation for 25 million School Children in Maharashtra, India
MITRA Upakram is an historic initiative of the Government of Maharashtra, western India, to facilitate wholesome mental growth of school children – leading to their developing as better citizens. MITRA Upakram brings benefits of secular, universal Anapana meditation to 25 million (2.5 crore) school children and 100,000 (one lakh) school teachers across Maharashtra. Anapana is the preparatory exercise for Vipassana meditation.

MITRA (Mind In Training for Right Awareness) also means ‘friend’ in Marathi language, or ‘dost’ in Hindi.  This is the largest human resource development project of its kind in the world. With Mumbai as capital, Maharashtra is one of India's leading states. Maharashtra has 24 Vipassana meditation centers, the most in any region in the world.

Students from a school in Pune city practicing Anapana meditation

Right Awareness, the essence of MITRA, is objective awareness of natural respiration (Anapana meditation).  Participants learn to objectively observe the incoming breath and outgoing breath - as it is - by focusing their attention at the entrance of their nostrils. They simply observe their natural breath, without trying to change, control or regulate the flow of the breath. Anapana is completely different from 'Pranayama', breathing exercises etc where one regulates the breath. 

With Anapana meditation, one experiences how the natural breath is connected to state of the mind. For instance, when angry the breath becomes hard and irregular; when calm, the breath is subtle, regular and soft. With regular Anapana practice, feedback and research studies show children increase their self-awareness. They understand how to respond better to various situations. The children gain mastery over the wandering, wild mind. 

When angry or afraid the Anapana practicing child observes the breath,  and becomes calmer. With a calmer, stronger mind developed through Anapana practice, children become better equipped to deal with stress of studies, exams, difficulties at school, home, family problems etc. They are more effectively equipped to face challenges of growing up in a highly competitive world. With regular practice of Anapana, children become more self-confident and generous. They take the first steps towards becoming better members of the society.

Anapana: the breath becomes the child's best friend in need




Anapana in the ancient Pali language means observing the natural incoming, outgoing breath - as it is. This non-sectarian technique is a truly scientific, simple exercise to gain mastery of one's own mind. Anapana involves no rites, rituals nor links to any sectarian dogma. Observing the natural breath, as it is, is acceptable to all, to anyone practicing any religion.

As Anapana is preliminary to learning Vipassana meditation, children can participate in the residential 10-day Vipassana courses when they reach 18 years. As with Vipassana, Anapana is taught free without any charges or fee.

The MITRA project uses a simple format of teaching Anapana in schools, with support of the Vipassana International Academy. Dhamma Giri. Dhamma Giri, in Igatpuri about 150 km from Mumbai, is the world's largest Vipassana meditation centre. Over 1,100 students participate in twice-monthly ten-day Vipassana courses in Dhamma Giri and longer courses in adjacent Dhamma Tapovana.

After an initial training of 70 minutes, the school children practice Anapana daily for 10 minutes before school classes start. They repeat the practice for 10 minutes before leaving for home. Many schools in India and worldwide have included Anapana as part of the daily curriculum. 

Anapana is moral science in actual practice, giving the child strength of mind and wisdom to make wholesome choices in life. Just as PT classes (Physical Training) are common in schools, so too MT (Mind Training) of Anapana is essential for children, in schools for this and future generations.

With regular Anapana practice, even after a few weeks, research studies (*) have found that school children achieve better concentration, enhanced memory, self confidence, productivity, efficiency. They are able to focus better on work at hand. As the mind becomes purer, more free from negativity, they experience very positive feelings like compassion. Relationships improve with school mates, teachers, parents.

With Anapana, the MITRA Upakram project gives a practical self-training which gradually liberates the child's mind from barriers like anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, laziness, greed, insecurity etc. Anapana also helps children stay away from adolescent dangers like drug addiction and sexual misconduct.

All schools in India and worldwide are encouraged to adopt the MITRA Upakram example, and include Anapana as part of daily school curriculum - for immense benefits of children of today and global citizens of tomorrow. 

Seeds of Awareness: film on Anapana meditation for children

"How can we succeed in this competitive world without being dishonest?"
- A child's question to the Principal Vipassana Teacher during a Anapana course

Sayagyi U Goenka: The essence of leading a good, truly happy life is that one does not look for excuses to commit unwholesome actions. Now, you may have found a reason to apparently justify your wrong actions. You wrongly think 'We too must adopt dishonest methods to succeed in this world because everybody around is doing so, and progressing at a very fast pace. And, if we not do the same, we will lag behind '.

Understand that such thinking is the result of weakness of the mind. Anapana meditation, and later Vipassana, will make your mind so strong that you will not even remotely consider doing any unwholesome harmful action, or adopting any wrong ways. You can and will certainly succeed by being honest. On the contrary, if you fear failure because you are not adopting underhand methods to succeed, perhaps like your competitor, then this fear will become the cause of your failure. On the other hand, your own strength of mind will bring you success. So you must strengthen the mind and not weaken it on some pretext or the other.

As you grow older, you will understand further that those people who have acquired name, fame, position and wealth through dishonest means, and are apparently leading very successful lives, actually remain agitated and full of misery. Their suffering is constant, like burning embers covered with ash. They appear on the surface level to be enjoying life with their ill-gotten wealth and fame - but there is suffering within – agitation, fear of being found out, feelings of guilt, loss of self-respect. When you progress on this path, then you will realize that such a person neither sleeps restfully at night nor is his mind at peace during the day. What has he gained by becoming a so-called successful person through wrong means? The wealth, position, fame and name are all useless if these cannot generate happiness and peace of mind. So it is very foolish and self-destructive to adopt wrong means.

On the other hand, a honest person, whether or not he is wealthy or famous, but who is contented, compassionate, is a real noble person who leads a truly happy life. This is why you are learning Anapana meditation at this young age, so that you do not take a wrong path at any cost. Even for the sake of the right goal, do not use wrong means. Always take the right course for a righteous aim. Anapana, and later Vipassana, will give you the strength of mind and wisdom to be successful by being honest.
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To introduce Anapana in your school, please contact a nearest Vipassana Centre
How to Apply Vipassana in Student Life

Further reading:
* Anapana  Meditation for Children - by (late) Shri S. Adaviyappa, former Chief Engineer, Government of Rajasthan
* Holistic Education and Vipassana - by Prof P.L. Dhar, Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T, New Delhi)
* Education and Children's Courses - by Shanti Shah and Sabrina Katakam
* My Breath and I
* A Study of Vipassana Meditation on Adolescent Behaviour Pattern - Department of Psychology, University of Madras.