From the 27th of March until the 7thof April, I did my first Vipassana course in a small but wonderful meditation center located three hours outside of New Delhi in Hastinapur, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Vipassana is the practice of observing oneself, of observing what is going on inside one’s body and mind and to see things as they really are, without judging or labeling them mentally.
It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations (e.g.: one’s own breath) that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind.
The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood.
Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.
Vipassana meditation does not belong to any specific sect, religion or ethnicity and is not a practice which will get the participant in a dream-like or psychedelic state of trance.
The non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation by realizing the transience of all things.
Consequently, Vipassana is a way that helps people to transform themselves by observing themselves.
I was struggling during the beginning of my first 10-day Vipassana course but realized quickly that the technique became easier and my concentration periods longer. To concentrate and stay concentrated for long periods of time became much easier suddenly and I enjoyed the long meditation sittings from then on.
On the last day, my mind was focused and sharp and a razor blade. I felt deep at peace and balanced. No craving, no aversion, no labeling. I had a glimpse of “seeing things as the really are.”
It is difficult for me to put my feelings into words but generally speaking, the technique of Vipassana increased my usual state of concentration, as well as my understanding of sensations so radically, that I label the results as life changing.
I decided to write this article and spread the teaching of S.N. Goenka, as well as the Vipassana technique to other people.
Dhamma.org – Vipassana meditation taught by S.N. Goenka
„Rather than converting people from one organized religion to another organized religion, we should try to convert people from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation and from cruelty to compassion.”Satya Narayan Goenka
Born and raised in Myanmar, S.N. Goenka received the teaching of Vipassana by Mr. Sayagyi U Ba Khin, a high government official, who was teaching Vipassana to his colleagues with the aim of establishing harmony and goodwill at their workplace.
Goenka, at that time a successful business man, started Vipassana with the intention to cure his severe headaches but realized very quick that the technique has much more to offer.
After receiving training from his teacher for fourteen years, Mr. Goenka settled in India and began teaching Vipassana in 1969.
In a time of division by casts, religions and ethnicities, S.N. Goenka spread a message of love and compassion for all human beings.
Because of the effectiveness of the technique, the number of course participants increased rapidly, so that Goenka started in 1982 to appoint assistant teachers to help him meet the growing demand for Vipassana courses.
Nowadays, Dhamma.org is a worldwide organization that teaches Vipassana meditation in more than 200 centers in Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa and Oceania.
In 2012, S.N. Goenka got honored for his notable work, when he received the prestigious Padma Award from the president of India, which is the third highest civilian award given by the Indian Government.
Satya Narayan Goenka, who breathed his last breath at the age of 89 in September 2013, has left behind an imperishable legacy: the technique of Vipassana, now available more widely than ever before to people around the world.
10 days Vipassana course
To keep the purity of Vipassana and abstain from commercializing the technique, Goenka decided that the courses should all be free of charge.
Official Vipassana courses by S.N. Goenka can be booked at dhamma.org.
Participants are free to give a donation at the end of each course in order to enable other people to join a course without having to pay money. This system enables people from all income-classes to join a Vipassana course without worrying about financial losses.
There are several Vipassana meditation courses and the most famous one is the beginner course which has a duration of 10 days.
Participants have to follow a prescribed code of discipline to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants during the entire course.
Furthermore, these activities are not allowed during the entire 10 days:
- To read or write
- To listen to music
- To communicate with other course participants
- To produce unnecessary noise or other disturbances
- To do sports or have sexual activities
Meditation will start from the first day on and new meditation methods will be added from day to day. Every evening, meditators will see a different 80 minutes video of Mr. Goenka explaining different aspects of Vipassana meditation.
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out
During the first three days, participants will take first steps of focusing their minds by concentrating on the area of their nostrils and feeling the respiration of breath coming in and out. This technique is essential to focus and calm the participant’s mind, introduce them to the technique and prepare them for the practice of Vipassana.
On day four, participants start observing sensations through their entire body by “scanning the body”. The aim of this meditation technique is to gain awareness of the different sensations that each individual feels in its body, consciously or unconsciously.
Each meditator starts either at the feet or the head and moves her concentration slowly, part-by-part through the entire body. It is free to choose on how much time one wants to spend at each individual part, but each meditator should neither do one body-scan each breath, nor one body-scan each hour.
To keep my mind concentrated, I took about 5-7 minutes for one body-scan from head to toe.
It is quite difficult for beginners to feel sensations at every part of the body and it is recommended to spend more time on those “blind spots” before continuing to other body parts.
“Old students”, students who already finished a Vipassana course and are therefore familiar with the technique, will scan their body in one continuous flow instead of “scanning” it part by part.
The technique remains almost the same during the rest of the course with just little changes, such as scanning the body symmetrically (right and left hand at the same time, right and left shoulder at the same time, etc.)
During each meditation session, the participants should remain total equanimous to the sensations they feel, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant sensations.
Furthermore, meditators should abstain from labeling them in their mind as an unpleasantorpleasant sensation, as this will either produce aversion or craving, which are both disturbances for a balanced mind.
On day 10, meditators will learn the technique of Mitrabahawana, to practice goodwill and compassion. Meditators think of people that they love or like and create positive energy by sending those people mentally their wishes and blessings.
Mitrabahawanashould be practiced for about 5 minutes at the end of each regular meditation session.
My personal experience with Vipassana meditation
I started a Vipassana course with the intention to get to know myself better, especially what is going on inside of me and what the origin of my misery is. Unfortunately, I had a wrong perception of the course and therefore felt very disappointed after the first couple of days.
“Scan my body and feel physical sensations?! That’s all?!”, were the thoughts that were going in a loop through my head at that time and I did not felt satisfied with the answers which the guru replied to my questions. Furthermore, I just got more frustrated as I blamed the guru and the technique for “not working for everybody”.
In addition to that, I had nightmares during night and felt tired during the day.
On the fourth
The morning bell woke me up on the next day at 4 a.m. and my mood was completely changed. The misery from the evening before was gone and I felt refreshed.
After a quick shower, I went to the meditation hall and started meditating with the other students. The mediation technique of scanning my body felt so easy suddenly and I had no difficulties at all to concentrate. In addition to this I suddenly felt deep peace inside of me and had no difficulties, meditating for the entire 90 minutes of morning meditation.
It was on that day that I decided to stay for the entire course, no matter what will happen. The nightmares continued, so that I still woke up at night, but it was easier now to fall asleep again and develop a mental distance to what I dreamed.
And this is exactly the point why I am writing this article. Vipassana is a wonderful technique that has already helped millions of people to deal with their misery, as it has also helped me to deal with mine. But it takes hard work to understand and use the technique.
If I had the chance to read such an article before my course, I would probably have started it with better intentions and would have had better results from the course.
One thing that many people don’t understand is that it takes time and the 10 days are just enough time to get a glimpse of the technique. In our modern lives, we are so busy all the time that we hardly ever take off 10 days to just focus on one thing from dawn until doom.
We are used to get everything we want effortless and right on time, but to seriously practice meditation and get a glimpse of noble truths such as dhamma, one has to devote time and energy.
Once I decided with full commitment and devotion to the technique, things started to become easier and I started to realize first results of practicing meditation.
Whether I had positive or negative thoughts, it became much easier for me to neutralize them by “smiling at them, knowing that they too, will pass”, as the teacher of the course called it. In addition to that, I found myself far less worrying or daydreaming and were able to do multiple “body-scans” during the different sessions of meditation.
Inner peace started to come up inside of me and I felt that every session of meditation was another step in the right direction.
During the following days, I meditated with devotion and enjoyed the results that increased from then on.
When the 9thday was over, I felt a little bit sad, knowing that the course will finish soon and decided that I will continue meditating from now on regularly for at least 1.5 hours every day.
On day 10 the noble silence was over and it felt refreshing speaking to the other students. They all struggled too and my worries of being the “black sheep” were released. During our last meditation session in the evening my mind was calm and peaceful, knowing what a great experience those 10 days of Vipassana meditation were.
I would recommend other people to work with full devotion from the first day on and stay relaxed if negative thoughts come up in one’s mind. Vipassana is hard work and Goenka even calls it an “operation of the human mind without anesthesia”.
You will get exposed to all the negativity, as well as positivity, of your unconsciousness.
It is totally normal that one might get difficulties to sleep well during night or even have nightmares. Furthermore, participants might experience negative mind patterns that come up during the day. To treat those, one should remember that “they too will pass”.
Even though it will get hard, continue the course and remember that you are given the possibility to learn a technique in just ten days which might change your life forever.