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Thread: My 10 Day Vipassana Retreat

  1. #1
    Previous Member
    United Kingdom (Great Britain)
    Before you continue, here's a little disclaimer: The methods I talk about here, if you do decide to try it out, I have to let you know that I am not an expert on Vipassana meditation, as you will come to realise as you read on, so I don't recommend you trying these techniques without looking into it yourself.

    The retreat was in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka, one of the cleanest cities in the country and considered a sacred heritage city. We were on top of a mountain overlooking a valley and more mountains up ahead, where on some mornings the clouds would be below the peaks of the mountain, giving a feeling of being on top of the clouds. The view was beautiful and the garden had swarms of different types of butterflies and little birds. There were even families of monkeys that passed through the retreat compound every morning, with the little monkeys, equivalent to 4 year old human babies, playing around in the garden breaking small branches, to the gardeners annoyance. It was wonderful to sit down and contemplate in the garden. I even saw for the first time in my life, a leaf falling off a tree, contemplation of impermanence ran strong in my head during that moment.

    The technique is considered a pure form of the meditation the Buddha taught. More details on this practical technique is here: URL

    It is taught under the guidance of S.N Goenka, who was a pupil of Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma, apparently one of the few places where the Buddha's Vipassana meditation was honoured and kept in practice out of the few places Emperor Ashoka of India spread Buddhism to thousands of centuries ago.

    <u>The Timetable</u>
    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
    11:00-12:00 noon--------------Lunch break
    12noon-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

    Day 0
    I arrived just after about 2pm local time. There were already people there in the compound, a mix of locals and foreign nationals. I noticed that there were more women than men though, and most of them old, compared to me. Later I found out this other guy from the UK and I were the youngest at 21. I went into the office and filled in a form and they took my valuables and issued me a room. The women and men were separated and they had, at least on the men's side, this way of separating the new students with the old. Basically, on the mountain, the new students got the worst accommodation with shared bathrooms which was below everyone else. On top of us, was kuti's or cells with attached bathrooms for older students and on top of them, were the quarters for ordained monks.

    They gave us supper, and then we were to convene at around 6.45pm in the main meditation hall where we were given our first instructions on breathing meditation known as "ana pana", to build sati. Right after this we were to observe noble silence, including silence of the mind.

    <u>Day 1</u>
    To my surprise, I woke up at 4am to the sound of a bell which the security of the compound went around ringing. I observed strict noble silence, except silence of the mind, which I did to my best ability. The way we were supposed to observe silence of the mind was by breathing meditation or other types like walking meditation. Day 1 wasn't bad at all, we continued to do "ana pana" to build sati using the breath. No chanting or visualisations were used, just observation of the natural breath, which caused my mind to wander every now and then, but that is normal, for as long as I remembered to bring my observation back to the breath. Most people found it hard to sit still in the half lotus position, with aches and pains all over, this made a lot of us move around within the meditation periods (though some veteran old students, and the two ordained monks who were with us seemed to sit still quite fine).

    By day 1 I found out that the food wasn't absolutely amazing, I believe it is supposed to be that way. However, the food was plentiful, we were told that we could have two or three servings if we liked.

    On day 1 we had the first teachers discourse, which was basically a video of S.N Goenka speaking. The discourses were very good, Goenka kept it sectarian and concentrated as much as he could on the Vipassana technique, with some stories of the Buddha and others related to the dhamma, of course with a touch of humour.

    <u>Day 2</u>
    Day 2 we continued, much like day 1 except this day we were told to concentrate our observation of the breathing just around the nostrils area, the idea was to sharpen our mind by making the area of observation much smaller allowing the mind to observe much more subtle things that we pretty much from birth ignore.

    In the day 1 video discourse, we were told that day 2 and day 6 are usually the hardest. I thought day 2 was pretty good, so my confidence was quite good and even though I did wander around during the meditation periods to give my aches and pains a rest and to take in some of the scenery, I thought I was doing quite well.

    <u>Day 3</u>
    This day was much like day 2 and day 1. I had already met the guru, and asked him questions and his teachings gave me some confidence to try and sit longer without moving around.

    By now, I was told that we were not allowed to get up and wander around during the group meditation hours.

    On day 3 we were asked to observe the area under the lower nostril and above the base of the upper lip (that's basically where the moustache grows).

    Observing this area, I actually felt this tiny worm like itch moving around slowly. I was told to keep observing it without aversion nor craving for whatever sensation felt. Naturally, being me, I couldn't help but scratch the itches, and I felt the same sensation at least four or five times on day three. I tried my best to stay still and observe the sensations without reacting. I was quite happy with my progress, which I suppose made me work a little bit less harder than I should have, as I still wandered off during the normal meditation hours (not the group meditation hours).

    <u>Day 4</u>
    Today was the day that we actually started Vipassana. The idea was 1/3 of the retreat we would build samadhi for what was to come next, which is panna (insight). Samadhi is concentration of the mind, which is aided by taking sila. Sila is observing the 5 precepts which we did for all 10 days.

    So on Day 4, we were asked to take the concentrated observation of the area under the lower nostrils and above the base of the upper lip, to the top of the head (apparently the part where you're not allowed to touch new born babies at). I did this and I was beginning to doubt myself. I didn't feel anything. Later I found out though, that we were supposed to observe any sensation there, heat, the wind, sweaty moisture, etc... ( that's why monks and nuns are bald :D )

    I was disappointed, so I gave up. I was just sitting there, thinking, my mind was either in the fantastical future or the past. I was beginning to think of girls in my life, and delicious food, and even thinking of what I was going to write on this forum in detail. My mind was everywhere but in the present moment.

    On day 4, during tea time, I told one of the "dhamma helpers" my dilemma, he told me that even he couldn't ace the technique as a first timer, and to stay on and at least learn the Vipassana technique.

    Watching the video discourse that day, I realised that I came on this retreat on my own volition, and I was reminded the reasons why I came here in the first place, the reasons that I knew intellectually, and I came on this retreat to experience these reasons as taught by the Buddha.

    <u>Day 5</u>
    We continued to do Viapassana, the technique given on day 4, which was the observation of parts of the body starting from the top of the head, all the way down to the tips of the toes, in an order which we had to preserve. However, today we were asked once we got to the tips of the toes, to start from the tips of the toes and go all the way back to the top of the head.

    Day 5, was no different from day 4 for me. However, I did what I was asked, and went two rounds head to toe and saw how each time I observed a different sensation and even a very sharp pain on my left hip, went away on the second round. I found it very difficult to do that, and I gave up and entertained my thoughts.

    <u>Day 6</u>
    Day 6, I got frustrated, and for the first time angry. I wanted to go home. The guru noticed this, and I believe, he left on purpose before the video discourse, on that day so that I couldn't ask him to let me leave. Again, after watching the video discourse, I remembered the reasons I came here, and that even if I did leave now, maybe in a few days, a few months or years, I'd be back to Buddhism because at least intellectually, I knew what was said is true, and every time something bad happens, the Buddha's words ring behind me.

    I'll post the rest later, as I am out of time for now.

  2. #2
    Thank you so much for sharing all of this information and your reflections with us, Jack ! I'm really looking forward to reading the next instalment.

    Lots and lots of good wishes to you.

  3. #3
    Global Moderator Esho's Avatar
    Under the Bodhi Tree
    Thanks for shearing Jack dear,

    Looks like the seshin I had a few months ago but with zazen and just for 3 days... the silence we experience was amazing but the inner silence was just wonderfull... I love the experience. There is so much understanding though it...

    I live in a very noise neighborhood, so this seshin gave me some kind of inner strenght so to imporve my home zazen sessions even when the noise is suppouse to be "outhere".

    Good wishes to you.

  4. #4
    Global Moderator Esho's Avatar
    Under the Bodhi Tree
    Quote Originally Posted by Kaarine Alejandra #3:
    Looks like the seshin
    Seshin has multiple purposes... this seshin was just for zazen practice for begginers and the idea is to develop what is known as "Shokan" or the way to observe things directly... in simple terms... "Right View".

    I experienced, realy, a lot of pain in shoulders... and is was very tiring, at least for me so I experienced some sort of frustration but at the end I was realy glad having this wonderfull Seshin. The next will be in June.

  5. #5
    Previous Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Jack this sounds like a great opportunity. Hope to read more.

  6. #6
    Forums Member thundreams's Avatar
    Kingman Az.
    Quote Originally Posted by Replying to jack:
    from post #1
    Enjoyed reading your post.

  7. #7
    Forums Member
    central Louisiana, US
    Thanks, Jack, for posting.
    I 've not attended any Buddhist retreats, so I look forward to any anecdotal information I can get re .what it's like to go on one.
    Look forward to future postings.

  8. #8
    Forums Member
    United States of America

  9. #9
    Forums Member Element's Avatar
    Kanti paramam tapo titikkha

    Patience endurance is the supreme austerity

    Nibbaram paramam vandati Buddha

    All Buddhas say Nibbana is the supreme

  10. #10
    Global Moderator Esho's Avatar
    Under the Bodhi Tree
    Quote Originally Posted by Element #9:
    Patience endurance is the supreme austerity

    (we call this "Gyoji" in our practice)

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