Vipassana; the art of living
During our almost 2 month trip in India, we had the chance to do a Vipassana course in Jodhpur. This was an amazing experience. In this blog we want to share our knowledge and experiences regarding Vipassana.
Vipassana is the 2,500 year old meditation technique of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. The Buddha states that in life there is always misery (Dukkha in Pali). Buddha decides to find a solution to end all misery in life. This results in his technique of Vipassana. During and after the life of the Buddha, his words and wisdom spread over most of Asia, but somehow the actual technique gets forgotten.
Vipassana which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. The teaching of Vipassana is based on 3 fundamentals: Sila (moral conduct), Samadhi (concentration of the mind) and Panna (the wisdom of inside).
Most of the theory and understanding of morality were already there before Buddha. However the power of the meditation technique and the essential difference with previous techniques lies within the Panna. The wisdom was there, but the wisdom existed only in words.
Buddhas life and Vipassana
Gautama is born as a prince and thus grows up in luxury without sorrow or difficulties. However as he gets older and starts exploring the outside world he gets to know what misery is. After seeing death, illness and poor people he wonders why there is so much misery in the world. He realizes that he was living a life of lies and the actual truth is different. Therefor he decides to leave his home to explore the truth.
After trying different religions and lifestyles he finally finds his own way. His technique starts to quickly spread in India and the rest of Asia. For long years Buddhas technique is being used in different countries. Later however people give more attention to his wise words and way of life then practicing his way of meditation.
Although the Buddha is respected in India, his technique gets forgotten. In Myanmar however the technique is kept safe. In the last century S.N. Goenka gets in touch with the technique, he starts teaching his close ones. This eventually results in a 10 day course held in small classes in India first and a spread of the technique worldwide later.
Vipassana courses Goenka
Goenka established worldwide free courses in meditation centers, which are only supported by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to also benefit. If you want to join a course, you can find the schedules and locations at: Dhamma website
Do note that this course is not a simple meditation for relaxation purposes. It requires dedication, a lot of discipline and a strong will. You are not allowed to speak, boys and girls are separated and you get a small room with an uncomfortable bed and not much else. For the full rules click here: code of discipline
Twice a day there is a full meal and in the evening some snacks and tea are available. In Jodhpur the food was really nice. It was all vegetarian food and well balanced to keep you full and satisfied.
A day of the course is planned as below:
04:00 a.m. Morning wake-up bell
04:30 – 06:30 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
06:30 – 08:00 a.m. Breakfast break
08:00 – 09:00 a.m. Group meditation in the hall
09:00 – 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 – 01:00 p.m. Rest, and interviews with the teacher
01:00 – 02:30 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
02:30 – 03:30 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
03:30 – 05:00 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
05:00 – 06:00 p.m. Tea break
06:00 – 07:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
07:00 – 08:15 p.m. Teacher’s discourse in the hall
08:15 – 09:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
09:00 – 09:30 p.m. Question time in the hall
09:30 p.m. Retire to your room; lights out
As you can see, almost all your time is dedicated to meditation of minimum 1 hour. It’s not easy, but you do get used to it with ups and downs every now and then. But don’t let this schedule frighten you. Vipassana is a wonderful experience which every person in our opinion should do at least one time in their life.
How does Vipassana work?
So this is how it works. It was already clear that all misery is caused by craving and aversion. It was also clear that our 6 senses (Goenka mentions 6 instead of 5), are the reason for our cravings and aversions. But although there were a lot of religions or theory about this, still people remained miserable. Something was missing.
Buddha realized that the missing link between our senses and craving and aversions which make us feel miserable are sensations. Previous wisdom didn’t go deep enough to the unconscious mind but Buddha did.
The unconscious mind is actually conscious and records everything that is happening on the outside world. Every sensation is linked to a so called Sankhara. In Vipassana terms this means build up of previous sensations in the body caused by craving and aversion. Every time that a similar situation happens in a persons life, the same sensations are being generated by the mind that were generated earlier, which causes misery. To get rid of this pattern of the mind and the misery, the Sankharas are being cleaned up from the body by the Vipassana meditation.
And because there is a lot of self observation and internal wisdom, the way of life changes and with this misery becomes less in once life. The theoretical part is spread over the 10 days during the course and really make you think about life. A lot of examples are given by Goenka which makes it easier to understand.
10 Days Vipassana course day by day
The first 3 days we did Anapana meditation. Anapana is observation of the natural breath coming in and going out. The actual Vipassana meditation started on the 4th day and on the last day we additionally practiced Metta meditation.
Day 1: The first day we started observing our breath. Note that the breath used for this technique is the natural breath. This means without adjusting it. This is to observe the reality as it is and highlighted as ‘’the truth’’. The reason for the observation is to keep the mind concentrated for increasing the focus.
Day 2: The second day it was time for being aware of sensations. Again we observed the breath, only this time with observing the sensations on the nostrils and within the nose. We were again asked not to adjust our natural breath but only observe as it is. Only if it’s hard to feel any sensation a few harder breaths can be taken to be more aware and after this the breath must go back to it’s natural form.
Day 3: After we got aware of sensations, it was time to experience them on a different area. We started to observe the sensations on the area below the nostrils and above the lips. The reason to observe specifically this area is because it is easier for the mind to focus on a smaller part instead of a large area. With this exercise we sharpened our mind and made it more sensible and aware of sensations.
Day 4 & 5: On the 4th day we started with Vipassana. We were asked to screen our body for sensations part by part. Starting from the top of our head to the face, the right arm till the fingers, left arm till the fingers, neck area, front of the body, back side of the body, right leg till the toes and left leg till the toes. We repeated this on day 5. We were repeatedly asked to just observe and observe objectively; that is, remain equanimous with all the sensations that you experience, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, by appreciating their impermanent nature. We needed to keep our attention moving and never stay more than a few minutes at any place.
Day 6 & 7: The next 2 days we meditated with the same principles. Observing sensations equanimously without developing a craving or aversion during moving between parts of the body. There was only once thing added: to move simultaneously trough the body. If the left and right arm experience the same sensations, you can pass trough them at the same time. Only where this is not possible, the parts which are left out can be observed at the end part by part.
Day 8 & 9: On day 8 and 9 we were asked to go trough the body with a free flow without staying too long at one specific part. This way you become aware of gross sensations within the body. Gross sensations are almost solid sensations which contain deeply rooted Sankharas. Every time you find one of these, you can stay there with your mind for a few minutes but not longer. By being aware of the sensations within the body, the sensations slowly start to disappear. Again the key is to stay equanimous and being conscious about the fact that every sensation comes and goes. Nothing stays forever. On the last days if you feel there are no gross sensations left, you can start to feel trough the body and not only the outer parts. This means focussing with your mind piercingly, almost like a scan from left to right.
Day 10 (Metta day): On the last day we partly practiced Vipassana and partly did a new meditation. This is called Metta. It basically means realizing how blessed you are to feel happy and sending part of your happiness to all the beings around you. The 10th day has longer breaks. This day you get to used to your normal life. You can speak to each other and socialize.
The next day meditation starts again at 4.30 and after breakfast at 6.30 the program ends and you can leave whenever you want that day.
Experience Vipassana Özlem
It was an incredible experience. I’m not going to say that it was very pleasant, because at times it was very hard. But I am super glad that I have done it. In the first 2 days it was difficult to keep my mind focussed as your mind wanders away whenever you try to meditate. However your mind gets used to it and you can stay focused longer and longer by time.
It is very different then an ordinary meditation session. I truly believe you reach deeper levels of consciousness because it really affected me. Every night I saw 3 different dreams. These dreams had no logic, for example at day 2 or 3 I dreamed about a 2 floored apartment where one floor was half cut. Or I dreamed about previous jobs and going back and fort between them.
Also there was this one time where I was deeply in meditation and a memory of my childhood suddenly popped in my head for no reason. I didn’t think about that memory for a long time. Suddenly at this evening meditation session I started to cry. I remember that I wanted to quit and just go home. Then I calmed myself down and remembered that every sensation every moment passes away. I felt relieved that night. When we were allowed to talk, I shared my experience with some others and some of them told me that they had a similar experience.
I think Vipassana helps you let go of happenings that have affected you. You get confronted with past events that have caused you strong emotional moments. These events can be good or bad. Vipassana teaches you to relative everything and be more objective and less caught away by things you go trough. I feel very blessed that I had the chance and opportunity to do it, especially because I took the course in India Jodhpur.
Experience Vipassana Alphan
Vipassana was one of the most interesting experiences in my life. I could imagine how hard it most be when I first heard about it in Turkey. However I wanted to adapt my mind and body to it.
In the first days it was hard to adjust my mind to meditation. I kept having troubles with focussing. But in the evening of the second day, I succeeded in keeping focussed and started enjoying it. Within these 2 days, I dreamed about different past experiences. The food I ate tasted different. I observed the nature around me more detailed. On the 4th day, when we actually started to practice Vipassana I was able to fully meditate. My mind was no longer wandering around, I could focus more and was fully adapted to the mediation program. Whenever I came out of the meditation hall into the garden the difference of smells and colors was amazing. There was a harmony which we don’t notice during our normal lives and this just showed me what a good decision I made to come here. At the end of the 10th day when the noble silence was over, I got to chance to meet the people who I meditated with side by side during the course. The happiness on our faces and the inner peace we felt was worth everything.
Vipassana should be done once every year. If that’s not possible at least once in a lifetime. You should think wisely before applying. You should respect all participants and everybody should follow the rules. Otherwise Vipassana won’t work for you and you will just waste your time. The Dhamma organization takes care of everything you need to meditate, free of charge. The only thing that remains for you to do is simply meditate in peace.