Vipassana Meditation Course Review
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I’ve been back for a full two days now from the Vipassana Meditation retreat, and I’ve been taking some time to reflect on my overall experience. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was incredible.
I didn’t realize this when the course had completed because there was so much information floating around in my head, but now that most of that has quieted down I can view the experience objectively. This post may be a bit long because it’s meant to serve as a review of the course. Please bear with me!
Some Background Information
Not only did I learn a wonderful technique over the course of 10 days. I learned Dhamma, the art of living, as taught by the Buddha. Although Vipassana is a technique developed by the Buddha, it is completely non-sectarian, non-religious, and universal. Anyone can utilize the practical application of the technique, and anyone can expect to obtain the same universal benefits.
At my course there was an array of blacks, whites, asians, indians, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, etc. The purpose of Vipassana is to transmit experiential knowledge of Truth by giving you the opportunity to directly experience Truth within the framework of your body. As you can imagine, this is powerful stuff that can change lives.
The course is taught with a series of audio and video cassette tapes of S.N. Goenka, the primary teacher of the materials. Along with Goenka, there is one male and one female assistant teacher assigned to the course. They are there to clarify any confusion students may have, and to guide the progress of the course.
When I first arrived at the course, I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. Were the people going to be friendly, loving, and compassionate as I expected them to be? Was it going to be a cult-like gathering with a bunch of people wearing loin cloths and sporting thick unkempt beards?
I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into a registration room full of normal looking people, and was greeted by a nice lady. I filled out a “New Student Form,” was given a room number, and was asked to go and settle into my room. This is also when I gave the lady all of my valuable personal belongings, such as my phone, wallet, and car keys (so I couldn’t escape later).
I proceeded to my room, and there was already a gathering of students in the hallway. I got a chance to meet most of them, and I noticed that these weren’t ordinary people. These were exceptional people. They were very open minded, and many of them had done some really cool things (running marathons, traveling the world, attending personal development seminars, etc). I was savoring my right to talk, because this was the last talking I would be doing for the next 10 days.
After our hour long chat session, we made our way to the male dining hall where the course orientation was being held. At the orientation we were told the rules of the facility, and the rules of the program in general. There were certain course boundaries we were not supposed to cross for our own protection (this place was in the middle of nowhere and there was known to be dangerous wildlife abound). Also, there were male and female boundaries to prevent us from interacting with the opposite sex. This made sense because that sort of interaction would create a huge distraction in our meditation efforts. At this time we were also informed of the daily timetable, and were told that if we wanted to get the maximum benefit out of the course we were to adhere to the timetable strictly.
Wake up bell: 4:00am
Meditate in the hall or in your room: 4:30-6:30am
Breakfast and rest: 6:30-8:00am
Group meditation in the hall: 8:00-9:00am
Meditate in the hall or in your room: 9:00-11:00am
Lunch and rest: 11:00am-1:00pm
Meditate in the hall or in your room: 1:00-2:30pm
Group meditation in the hall: 2:30-3:30pm
Meditate in the hall or in your room: 3:30-5:00pm
Tea break: 5:00-6:00pm
Group meditation in the hall: 6:00-7:00pm
Evening discourse: 7:00-8:15pm
Final group meditation: 8:15-9:00pm
Lights out: 9:30pm
As you can see, there’s a TON of meditation and not much time for anything else. I was already aware of the schedule before arriving, so I wasn’t surprised. But some of the other students had a look of “what the hell have I gotten myself into?” on their face. After all of the instructions were given, we made our way to the meditation hall, and as soon as we stepped inside, the silence for the course began.
Meditation instructions were given at this first meditation. I remember sitting and thinking, “easy enough!” Since the orientation took up so much time, our evening meditation only lasted for about 30 minutes. After this we were dismissed and had 30 minutes to get ready for bed. I wasn’t used to going to bed at 9:30, so I didn’t fall asleep until about midnight. Almost as soon as I fell asleep, I was abruptly woken up by the morning bell at 4:00am. I thought to myself, “oh %&#$, this is going to be terrible!”
My Daily Experience
The first day was extremely intense. No one is used to meditating for 11 hours a day (unless you’re a monk, then it’s a breeze), so my body was constantly having to make adjustments. My body wasn’t too happy with the adjustments it was having to make, so it gave me a hard time. As the days passed it became more cooperative, and I was able to obtain some incredible results by the end of the course.
I followed the daily timetable scrupulously, observed all of the rules to the tee, and made full use of the theoretical information transmitted in the daily evening discourse. If you plan on attending the course, make sure you do the same so you can obtain the best results possible in the short 10 day period.
The only time I broke silence was to talk with an assistant teacher. At noon, students are allowed to set up an interview, and are permitted to quietly ask the teacher any questions they have about the teachings. This was highly beneficial for me because there were many theoretical aspects of the technique I didn’t understand that I wanted to get clear on. The teacher was quite knowledgeable, as he had been practicing Vipassana for 35 years! I found that understanding why everything works the way it does helped me obtain better results from the practical application of the technique. In the end I realized how wonderful the system really is.
I won’t go into details about the technique because I’m nowhere near qualified enough to teach it, and I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. I will, however, comment on the quality of the teaching and the effectiveness of the program design.
Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people have attended a Vipassana meditation camp, just like me. And over those years the people who designed the program have constantly worked to perfect it so that students can obtain even better results. My experience was nearly flawless, and everything I was told I would obtain by the end of the course I obtained.
I have to give the Vipassana Academy credit for creating such a fine tuned, effective method to alleviate the human race of its pains and miseries. I can confidently say that every student who signs up for a 10 day program will obtain tangible results at the end of the course if they give the technique a fair trial by observing all the rules and recommendations.
Here are some of the benefits I received by attending the course:
- Freedom from pain and misery, and the ability to prevent myself from causing any future pain or misery in my life
- The ability to maintain a balanced mind in ANY situation, regardless of how “great” or how “bad” it may be
- Strong compassion for my fellow beings, human or otherwise. So much so that I’m now a vegetarian (and I was a hardcore meat eater before the course began)
- Stopped drinking alcohol
- The ability to apply an intense focus to any task I wish to accomplish
- The discipline to follow through with any task I wish to accomplish
- A better understanding of Truth as it applies to the nature of our reality, and the nature of our being
- The confidence one gains when he/she accomplishes something momentous (it feels like I just finished climbing Everest)
In the short period of 10 days I somehow managed to acquire all of these benefits, and many of the other students were able to say the same (I know because I talked to them after the course.) I strongly recommend that everyone take a course because I know it will be life-changing for any individual.
If you do decide to go, make the commitment to yourself to stay for the entire 10 days no matter what. A few students left in the middle of the course, and I’m sure they all regret it now. If you ever find yourself questioning some of the practices during the middle of the course, be patient. I assure you by the end you will understand exactly why everything is set up the way it is.
All in all, I can’t recommend the course strongly enough. I believe every human being should give it a try and see for himself/herself how much this technique can improve his/her life. If you’re closed minded to the idea of taking a chance with a 10 day course, remember, it’s only 10 days. After that you’re back to your normal life, but with a new experience under your belt.
Also, Vipassana meditation is non-sectarian, non-religious, and universal. No one will try to convert you, and you won’t be subjected to any sort of sequestration or indoctrination. With that in mind, give it a try! See for yourself what all the buzz is about. I assure you in the end you’ll be glad you gave Vipassana a chance.
If you have any specific questions at all regarding the course, don’t hesitate to contact me or post a comment below. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the course, please check out http://www.dhamma.org
Update 7/18/2013: Please read through the comments section below for additional information on the Vipassana Retreat experience.
Photo by iBrotha
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