In this blogpost, I would like to share my ten-day Vipassana meditation experience. Part one focuses on a brief introduction to Vipassana alongside with the course timetable. In part two, I will share my thoughts together with what and how I felt during and after the course.
The 10-day Vipassana retreat is a silent meditation retreat. Participants spend ten days without speaking, reading, writing, exercising, using technology, communicating, and connection to the outside world. Everyone commits to complete silence and more than 10-hours meditation everyday. This may make you wonder, what is actually a Vipassana? Why would anyone want to do it in the first place?
WHAT IS VIPASSANA?
Vipassana means seeing things as they really are and it is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago. Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation; it starts with observing our natural breath to concentrate our mind. This later would sharpen our awareness to observe the changing nature of our body and mind.
Through the observation of the changing nature of the body and mind, we experience the universal truths of impermanence and by realizing this impermanence, the process of purification begins. The entire path, called Dhamma, is a universal remedy for universal problems. And so, even though Vipassana technique was developed by the Buddha, the practice is not limited to Buddhists. People from various religious backgrounds have participated and experienced the benefit of the meditation without conflict with their religious beliefs.
WHY PARTICIPATE IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Prior to the course commencement, students would be made aware that the retreat is not a holiday, a rest cure, an escape from everyday life’s trials and tribulations, nor it is an intellectual or philosophical entertainment. So why would anyone participate in the first place?
The answer might be that through Vipassana, we learn a method of mental purification that will help us in facing life’s tensions in a more calm, balanced way. It is an art of living we can use to make positive contributions to society. Even though we know that it is easier said than done, I believe that our willingness to learn and to put the technique into practice, would help us to dissolve mental impurities resulting in a balanced mind full of compassions and loves.
THE PRECEPTS AND COURSE RULES
There are precepts and course rules one must abide to when attending a Vipassana course.
The Five Precepts are:
1. to abstain from killing any being;
2. to abstain from stealing;
3. to abstain from all sexual activity;
4. to abstain from telling lies;
5. to abstain from all intoxicants.
Three additional precepts for old students include abstaining from eating after midday, abstaining from sensual entertainment and bodily decoration, and abstaining from using high or luxurious beds.
In addition to the above precepts, there are some course rules to be observe by the course participants:
1. Noble Silence: Silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication (such as gestures, written notes, sign language, even eye contacts) with fellow students is not allowed.
2. Separation of Men and Women: Parents, siblings, members of the same family, couples, married couples, friends, etc. should not contact each other in any way during the course.
3. Physical contact: No physical contact with others of the same or opposite sex throughout the course.
4. Yoga and Physical Exercise: Should also be suspended mainly because there is no proper facilities that are available at the course site. There is a walking path available for students who want to have a walk during rest periods.
5. Religious Objects, Crystals, etc: Should not be brought to the course and if brought inadvertently, must be deposited with the management.
6. Tobacco, Intoxicants, and Drugs: Should not be brought to the course site. Those taking medicines or prescriptions should notify the teacher.
7. Food: Vegetarian meals are provided and fasting is not permitted. Any special request should be addressed to the management at the time of application.
8. Clothing: Dress should be simple, modest, and comfortable. No tight, transparent, or revealing clothing should be worn.
9. Laundry and Bathing: No washing machines or dryers are available. Bathing and laundry may be done only during the break periods.
10. Music, Reading, and Writing: No playing of musical instruments, no reading or writing materials should be brought to the course, and no taking notes.
11. Tape Recorders and Cameras: Are not allowed except with teacher’s permission.
12. Outside Contacts: No outside communication is allowed before the course is over. Cell phones and other electronic devices must be deposited with the management until the course ends. In case of emergency, a relative or friend can contact the management.
4:00 a.m. Morning wake-up bell
4:30 – 6:30 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30 – 8:00 a.m. Breakfast break
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00 – 11:00 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00 – 12 noon Lunch break
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Tea break
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
7:00 – 8:15 p.m. Teacher’s discourse in the hall
8:15 – 9:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00 – 9:30 p.m. Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m. Retire to your room, lights out
The following are the summaries of each point of the timetable.
Morning Wake-Up Bell
There was a gong morning call at 4 AM sharp. I sometimes would wake up about 15 minutes earlier, taking my time to use the shared bathrooms.
Meditate in the Hall or in Your Room
Each morning at 4:30 AM we would start meditating, option to meditate either in the hall or in our room. Most of the days (8 out of the 10 days), I chose to meditate in the room. Frankly speaking, I would say that the morning meditation was the toughest for me. I constantly fell asleep in the alotted two-hours time.
Always been one of my favorite time of the day. I would start this time with a warm glass of lemon water every morning. This definitely helped calm down my cough and cold that I had during the first five days of the retreat. I would wait for around 15 minutes before eating breakfast that consisted of selections of oatmeals, marinated dates, cereals, bread, butter, rice milk, soy milk, fruits, yogurt, coffee, tea, cinnamon powder, etc.
After the breakfast, we can return to our room to take a rest, take a shower, use the restroom or walk on the walking path outside.
Group Meditation in the Hall
We would hear another gong 10 minutes before 8 AM, calling us up to prepare for the first group meditation of the day in the hall. The first four days, we focused on doing Anapana meditation technique. Anapana is the observation of natural breath, as it comes in and goes out throught the nostrils. Day 5 onwards, we practiced the Vipassana technique, paying our attention to the physical sensations.
Meditate in the Hall or in Your Room According to the Teacher’s Instructions
Everyone would stay in the hall at first after the previous one hour group meditation. Some days, teacher would call our names to join her in front of the hall and checking in with us if we understood the new instructions given, and then meditated together in the front for a few minutes before choosing to meditate either in the hall or back in our room.
The second similar meditation where teacher would instruct us to either stay in the hall or in our room was that at 3:30 – 5:00 PM in the afternoon.
I really enjoyed the varied and flavorful vegetarian lunches provided throughout the course. Brown rice, white rice, and green salad were always available with desserts, such as cookies or pastries, on some days. I usually accompany my meal with a glass of honey lemon water.
Rest and Interviews with the Teacher
We could schedule an interview with the teacher or take a rest after the lunch break. Questions after questions kept arising in my mind that I spent 7 out of 10 days to meet with the teacher, up to the point that I playfully mentioned to the teacher for not being bored with meeting me almost every day, lol.
Tea Break equals dinner with selections of fruits, lemon water, and teas. I usually have a banana, a pear or an apple, and a glass of warm lemon water. I would also fill up my water bottle with a hot chamomile tea for the evening. Students could also make a request to set aside food from lunch for the dinner if we wished to do so.
Teacher’s Discourse in the Hall
My other favorite time of the day. After the one hour group sitting in the evening, we would watched and listened to the recorded Dhamma talks by S.N. Goenka. I found encouragement to keep on going every time I listened to his funny and inspiring talks. Goenka would close the discourse with few minutes of mediation after a short break.
Question Time in the Hall
Following the last meditation session of the day, students who wanted to ask questions could stay before going back to our room. I stayed for three evenings to ask questions to the teacher. On the other days, I went straight back to my room to get enough rest before the next day started again. All lights must be turned off at 9:30 PM.
-End of Part 1- I’ll see you soon in Part-2! 😀