Vipassana – a silent mediation, an ancient meditation technique Buddha used and taught to his students. But what is it exactly? How does it work and why?
What is a
is a meditation technique. Several courses to learn the technique are offered
all around the world. These courses can last 1, 3, 7, 10, 20, 30, 60 or 90
days. As a start I went for was a ten days meditation course in Bodhgaya,
India. It was not just any place – it was the place Buddha became enlightened thousands
of years ago. A place that is now visited by millions of tourists, pilgrims and
monks every year. However, there are various centres all over India and in many
other countries of the world.
What do you
do during a Vipassana?
During the Vipassana
course you are not allowed to talk or interact with anyone. You will stay in
silence and avoid making eye contact with other fellow practitioners. You will just
focus on yourself for the duration of the course – ten days in my case. During
these ten days I lived in a Vipassana meditation centre. I had my own room
which was very simple but provided everything I needed. The whole room was made out of dark stone
walls, the floor and bed in black, the walls white. I slept on a matrass on the
cold stone with a mosquito net above to keep me from being eaten by these
little beasts. A mosquito net was truly necessary as you are also not allowed
to kill or harm anything or anyone during these ten days – which also counts
winter when I did my Vipassana and, in the north of India, it could get quite
cold during the wintertime. There were, of course, no amenities. It was as
simple as it could be. A room made out of cold stone, one shelf for belongings,
blankets and a mosquito net. Then a simple bathroom with bucket showers and a
toilet without toilet paper. Nothing more. I wasn´t there to spend a holiday – I
was there to meditate. And the lesser the distractions the better.
Rules of a
In a Vipassana,
you are not allowed to do anything than meditate. After I entered the gates and
had signed up for my course, I had to leave all my belongings in a safe until
the end of the course. During the course you are not allowed to read, nor to
write, nor use your phone or do anything else than to focus solely on yourself
and your meditation. To prevent distractions, personal belongings have to be
left behind. Which was surprisingly easy to get used to. Men and women are
separated as well and would only be allowed to meet after the course was over.
Upon our arrival
to the centre we were still allowed to talk to each other as the course had not
yet officially started. However, after the first introduction and the servers showing
us our rooms, we were asked to be silent and stay in silence for the next ten
days to come. At first it was weird to stand next to people I had just been
chatting with and all of a sudden we weren´t allowed to interact any longer.
However, it didn´t take long for me to be caught up in my own world and didn´t
even think about the others anymore. Once I entered this space of being
occupied merely with my own thoughts and actions it was no longer hard not to
interact anymore. The more I got absorbed in my thoughts the less I felt the
need to talk anymore.
From day 2
on we had a strict timetable for the entire day. Being woken up by the bell at 4:30am
we started to meditate at 5am. This meditation lasted 2 hours until breakfast.
Our meals were always simple vegetarian (and mostly even vegan) meals prepared
by the volunteers who served in the vipassana. The breakfast with a small break
lasted until 8. During this time hot water was available to take a shower.
Otherwise, we could take a shower later with cold water. Which was not as
pleasant as it was quite cold during that time – it was December in the north
of India and the nights were freezing cold. Afterwards, we met again in the
meditation hall to meditate for 3 more hours until 11. During this time our
teacher sometimes took us out of the hall asking us how we were doing and if we
had experienced any problems during our meditation. This was the only time we
could and should talk. We could also talk to the servers if we needed some help.
Afterwards the talk with our teacher we had lunch until 12 and a long break
until 1pm. During this break we could do whatever we wanted – wash our clothes
or walk around on the paths of the centre. As the centre was not very big, this
was maybe done within 5 minutes. I, as many others, discovered the square in
front of the biggest meditation hall as a perfect spot to just lay down and
enjoy the sun – midday was the only time it really got hot outside. When the
end of our break was again announced by the sound of the bell we knew we needed
to make our way back into the meditation hall. The entire time I had no watch
and had to solely rely on the ringing of the bells. There was also another
watch hanging outside of the meditation hall. Like that it was easy to lose
track of time. We found ourselves in the meditation hall to meditate until 4pm
– with two breaks in between. Then, we could have some tea, puffed rice and fruits.
This break was also something I was very much looking forward to as it got
already late and it got harder and harder to concentrate. The tea break lasted
an hour, then it was time to go back again. In the evening, we were listening
to a talk of Goenka, the founder of the Vipassana centres, on TV. He usually
explained what we would feel and experience on the particular days of our meditation.
He was always the highlight of my day as he would tell stories and explain
which problems we might be experiencing in all detail – and he usually was
right. Afterwards, we had a half hour of meditation again and then, at 9 pm we
were already going to bed.
How do you
meditate during a Vipassana?
the technique of a Vipassana is to learn to see things as they are and not how
you would like them to be. It also teaches you not to react to a certain
stimulus right away, but to take your time to reflect and accept conditions as
they are. The ultimate goal is to change the habit pattern of the mind. In our
everyday life we are used to reacting. Even a tiny event can cause a big
reaction within some people. This kind of behaviour, however, doesn´t always
serve us best.
acting imprudently, the main meditation technique of a Vipassana is to scan
your body from head to toe, starting from the head down to the toes and upwards
from the toes again – for an hour or longer. During this body scan you will
feel and observe certain sensations in your body. A tickling, tingling, prickling,
vibrations – whatever it is – you are merely here to look at them, accept them
as they are and move on. For me this particularly hard during our one hour
sitting we had to try every day. In this sitting we were supposed to meditate for
an hour without moving or changing position. After a while I already felt pain in
my feet, legs, arms, neck – anywhere and everywhere. But I was not supposed to
react to it. I was just there to absorb the pain and accept it. To reach this
state was hard, but once or twice I managed to even embrace my pain. As soon as
I did I didn´t have any power over me any longer. Sooner or late it would
disappear. I myself experienced this several times. Sometimes my whole body
hurt from sitting in the same position for such a long time – but it made me
realise that indeed nothing lasts forever. Everything, no matter what will
disappear eventually. This realisation is even more powerful if you experience
it within the framework of your body.
How did I
experience the Vipassana?
few days were hard. I did enter the Vipassana without any expectations as I
wanted to make my own, unbiased experiences. The first days, however, I didn´t
make that much of an effort to meditate. Looking back, I knew that I should
have done it, but I was so occupied with a lot of questions in my head.
Questions about what to do in the future and with my life in general. And now I
finally had time to think. To think what I really wanted without any
distractions. Which I was in desperate need of. On top of that I did the
Vipassana during new years eve. That evening when I realised the old year was
over and the new one stared and there I was, sitting in silence, meditating and
listening to Goenka was certain that I never experienced a more powerful start
in the new year. This time I had time to map out my goals in my head, to think
carefully about what I wanted to accomplish in the year ahead of me. It was
only after new years eve that my thoughts got more and more quiet and I could
finally focus solely on my meditation. As a new student I was not able to focus
the entire day, but it got better with each hour I spent in silence trying to
happens after a Vipassana? Would I continue meditating that much and is that
even possible in everyday life? Goenka would have the answers for this matter
which he told us on our last day. But would I listen to them? Would I implement
it in my daily routine? And what now half a year after my course? These are
questions I will leave for next week as I will be doing my second Vipassana (this
time an only one-day course) this weekend. Afterwards, there will be even more experiences
waiting to be told.