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What is this Vipassana Meditation I keep hearing about?


A few months ago, while traveling in Pokhara, Nepal and Jailsamer, India, I met two women, at some point in our new friendships, each one chatted with me about “ Vipassana Meditation”. For many years, I have heard the words, “Vipassana Meditation” without understanding which form of meditation this was.  Feeling determined and curious, I looked at my calendar, with six more weeks left in Nepal, I decided to sign up for the course.

There were three locations to choose from in Nepal, but decided to have a full Buddhist pilgrimage experience and attend the course in Lumbini – the birthplace of Lord Buddha. My approach these days has been to be an “empty vessel”, filled up by whatever new experiences came my way. No expectations and no prejudice other then it would be physically challenging to sit for ten days, ten hours each day and to observe a vow of noble silence for the duration of the course.

Some general information about the course from

What Vipassana is

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.

Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion 

  • It is a technique that will eradicate suffering.
  • It is a method of mental purification, which allows one to face life’s tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.
  • It is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.

The Code of Discipline

The foundation of the practice is sīla — moral conduct. Sīla provides a basis for the development of samādhi — concentration of mind; and purification of the mind is achieved through paññā — the wisdom of insight.

The Precepts

All who attend a Vipassana course must conscientiously undertake the following five precepts for the duration of the course


The Course Timetable

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 according to the teacher’s instructions

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 own room according to the        teacher’s instructions

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

The playing of musical instruments, radios, etc. is not permitted. No reading or writing materials should be brought to the course. Students should not distract themselves by taking notes. The restriction on reading and writing is to emphasize the strictly practical nature of this meditation.

The Vipassana Itinerary – Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable!

During the course you will spend approximately 

  • 30 hrs eating – Vegetarian regional cuisine prepared by former students who serve as volunteers. Some observations regarding the quality, if the food was prepared with love you could taste it, if not you could taste that too. For the first three days of our course, the food was very bland, no texture and hastily prepared. The volunteer who prepared it was leaving and passed this feeling along.

Students have a tendency to overeat, in part because there are no meals served after 11 am - you are only given fruit as a snack or other snack items. Overeating is detrimental and not complimentary to a rigid meditation schedule - one just can’t sit comfortably or risks dozing off during a meditation sessions. I found that by eating less, even if only eating twice a day, you could optimize your meditation experience.

  • 75 hrs sleeping – There were no luxury beds. You slept on a 2-3 inch mat under a mosquito net, this is quite normal in monasteries or ahrams, all part of the practice of self-discipline. Light were out by  9:30 pm. In Nepal, we often had no electricity due to 16hrs a day load-shedding schedule. I found myself sleeping easily and experiencing vivid dreams and occasionally lucid dreams which has not occurred in a long while.
  • 110 hrs of meditation – All students are assigned a seat in the meditation hall — I was assigned C1, front row center. We were allowed use as many mats/ pillows as necessary and could sit in any position that gave us the most comfort, however; after you sit ten hours a day is there anything you experience but discomfort. During the sessions everyone was required to keep their eyes closed and not disturb others. This was not adhered to. People were belching, passing gas, yawning, and making any and all audible sounds imaginable, yet not speaking.

Once you closed your eyes the fun started. We were all instructed to focus on the small triangle area of around nose, paying attention to any sensations and our natural breath for three days. Can you guess what happens next? 

  • Sleep - completely check out and not present
  • *Being Present - focused on your natural breath
  • Monkey mind – your mind wanders and wanders, enters the past, moves into the future, unable to maintain its focus on good things or bad, and the voice in your head just keeps going on and on about something

The first day, I was guilty of sleeping and not being present - completely checked out. The next day, I committed to doing better and had mixed success. I would allow my mind to wander and quickly got tired of my lack of focus and was able to remain present.

Just where does the mind wander?

By the third day, I could focus on my breathing and experienced flashes of images. My mind was wandering to pleasurable experiences, such as cooking with friends and laughter, but then it shifted and began to consider the importance of  love without attachment, generosity, compassion and empathy and how these are all we need to live a happy life.

As the days continued, I began connecting more dots and objectively observe my past behavior patterns. In Buddhism, they teach there are three poisons; ignorance, aversion and attachment. I have spent a lot of time on understanding the mental afflictions related to attachment - attachment to people, things, my own ideas, and how these are a source of suffering. Some how, all these years, I managed to ignore ignorance and aversion? I have always known that “I” was responsible for my own suffering, but didn’t recognize that my aversion allowed me to ignorantly create attachment, and that aversion to pain creates cravings for pleasure (attachment). 

When your mind quiets you are left with the reality of what is.

On the fourth day, we began to observe sensations on our body – this is Vipassana. I could feel the sensations outside my body and inside . I felt my heart beating, and a flow of energy moving through out my body (vibrations, pulsating, muscles twitching, buzzing, colors) – this lasted about 20 minutes. I entered this course as an empty vessel, this 20 minute experience gave me evidence 1) there is something to meditation 2) we are all energy – not our mind, nor our body, but if we are neither, then what are we?

At this moment, I was happy to have banked many years of advanced Buddhist discourse. The meditation showed me at an experiential level what the discourse taught my mind.

You can read a manual on brain surgery, but that won’t make you a successful brain surgeon.

By the fifth day, I was feeling distracted by the sounds, people, generally annoyed because I found myself wanting to chase that feeling – just a tiny bit. Many people dropped out of the course on this day and most of our distracters departed.

“Good to have mastery of speech, good to have physical mastery but one who has mastery of his mind is a warrior of real courage”

I found myself feeling invincible by day six.  I have worked ten ++ years on mind mastery via various Buddhist training. The years of discourse and the week of meditation allowed me to solidify all this training.  

There are many life experiences that will teach you about the law of impermanence; a divorce, a death, flowers blooming in spring, but not concisely as this experience. ALL things pass. One more time… ALL things pass. Good. Bad. EVERYTHING. The discomfort you feel sitting for ten hours, gone. The ten days of silence, gone; and that feeling of elation, gone. Our job is to learn to observe, not react emotionally to these events or to crave - chasing that pleasurable “high”.

What does sitting on the floor 110 hrs with your eyes closed teach you?

Meditators are like snow flakes, each unique and different. Your experience will be reflective of where you find yourself, how much previous mental training you have, and  previous Vipassana meditation experience - no two will be exactly the same.

Benefits of this course

There are many benefits from long-term continued meditation, but these are my observations from this specific course. Many seem obvious, because they are, but more difficult to consistently apply to your daily life and practice.

  • Mind management which contributes to mind mastery
  • Mental fortitude
  • Silencing the mind (mental chatter)
  • Mind/body detachment
  • Learning to be PRESENT
  • Confidence
  • Self discipline
  • Greater appreciation for silence and nature
  • You don’t need to speak or react to things, you can just accept them as they are
  • Getting beyond social constructs
  • Understanding what time feels like

Would I recommend this?

It has been almost three weeks, and I am still meditating, at least two - three hours a day. I feel happier (I was generally pretty happy), more compassionate and extremely slow to anger. I have more energy and mental clarity. So, would I recommend this? Yes, absolutely! Regardless of where you find yourself.  If you are a beginner or intermediate student of meditation, you will positively benefit from this time invested in yourself - there is always something to learn or fine tune.

Metta to you all!

Can you tell us more about your life there at the monastery

I received some questions from a prospective volunteer regarding day-to-day life at the monastery. For those of you curious;

Q- How do you communicate with the monks when you first got there?
The only communication between you and the monks is as their teacher. Most only speak Tibetan or Nepali ( and limited English) unless you can speak either, you won’t have much opportunities for meaningful conversations. If you are here for a short time (2 weeks) there isn’t and opportunity to establish a rapport, most monks are quite shy so it could be lonely.

Q - Do you prepare your own food or also eat the same food as the monks? Are they vegetarians only? We do not prepare our own food, there is a volunteer staff that prepares food for us. They are Tibetan Buddhists and do not believe in killing animals but will eat only Buffalo (no fish, no chicken, no pork etc). One can maintain a vegetarian diet - usually the cook will give you a vegetarian diet unless you state that you are ok eating “buff”.

Q - Do you keep 8 precepts when staying there? Regarding precepts; this isn’t intensive meditation or a retreat period, given this however; we do follow the following:

1. to refrain from destroying living creatures.

2. to refrain from taking that which is not given.

3. to refrain from sexual activity

4. to refrain from incorrect speech ( the younger children are not so disciplined and will repeat an occasional bad word from watching too many movies but have no idea about the meaning )

5. to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

7. This is a bit more common sense - use appropriate judgement - refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.

8. to refrain from lying on a high luxurious sleeping place - this isn’t even a possibility, we sleep on a cushion approximately 2 inches thick - no mattresses

More to come…

Life lesson #3 - After chatting with my sista it occurred to me, one of the magical things about Nepal. Living in an environment without financial resources- there is no hiding behind your wealth/money or selfish behaviors, all you have is who you are, learning to love/being open to receive love, kindness, compassion and empathy become your way of life. Life is really that simple. Almost that monk who sold his Ferrari, the rehabilitation continues <3

Today we had lunch with the Nepalese police. As a person who arrived from Istanbul where the norm was months of police tear gassing, water cannoning and being brutal to it’s citizens it was uncomfortable sharing a meal with them - call me a doubting Thomas. It was interesting to observe how generous the monastery was with the police; feeding them, doting on them, making sure they had enough to eat and drink.

 After lunch was over, the police presented all the teachers with a “khatak”, a white scarf to signify best wishes or good luck – this was originally a Tibetan tradition that has been adopted by the Nepalese. They also spoke to us and said that they are here to serve the community and if there was anything that the monastery needed they should not hesitate to reach out to them. I was also spoken to directly in English and thanked for coming such a long way to be a volunteer teacher to serve their “orphans”.  I found myself feeling pained. I don’t see what I am doing in this light – maybe I should be – and even if the word was used properly, I don’t like this word “orphan”. I don’t think of the children here as such, but rather as members of a sangha, they have a family – each other - and I too am a member of this sangha/ family for now.

We sent the police off and wished them well. Once again my mind traveled back to Istanbul; wondering, dreaming what it would be like to have an opportunity to serve the police lunch and feel that community spirit. Not today but perhaps one day…

After working hard at their exams, time for a little fun. Today is results day, food, fun and a little dancing - Buddhist Bollywood…

When is the last time you played in the rain? I was the kid splashing everyone with water!

The Great Debate ~ Every year the monastery has annual comprehensive final exams. Debate is part of the student’s coursework and they are required to show what they have learned over a two day period by engaging in debates with one another. I was invited by Khenpo (the principal) to take photos of the debaters from the front where he and the other lamas sit (I was watching from the back). One of the monks explained the following; their are two debaters, one who argues and one who counters the argument. They are to utilize energy from anger to articulate their position (they aren’t really angry - reminds me of Italians).

Some of my observations given that I don’t understand Tibetan; everyone had three rolls; 1) audience, 2) the one who argues, 3) the one who opposes. The one who argues becomes  the counter arguer for the new debaters. The audience served as a reminder (by chanting in Tibetan) to those who broke form as there are rules that are consistently followed. Some debaters had great showmanship, meaning they had good body form, expressed anger and were extremely articulate and entertaining to watch. There were some who argued well, but struggled with counter arguments and those who couldn’t be angry if they tried; and some who used humor when they had a loss for words. Generally age didn’t matter, some younger students were excellent showman while others giggled their way thru, or showed maturity by confidently not loosing composure even when they experienced a loss for words. Overall really enjoyable to watch over the past couple of days given that the days of great oral debates are over in the western world, happy to see it being preserved some places in the world today.

Scenes around the monastery

Short video clip - this is a puja (special ceremony and prayers) for the sponsor who donate to the monastery.

short video clip - This is a special ceremony to signify the end of the summer retreat period. During the summer retreat monks follow strict rules such as no eating meat and fasting after lunch …