Please note: This post is not written with an intention to give a detailed account of my experience of Vipassana. Not only is my experience very personal, but it is also inexplicable! Words cannot do justice to the beautiful time spent there.
Before deciding to go there, I had managed to read a few blog posts just to know others’ experience of the course.
Now, after having attended the course myself, I feel that many posts on the internet are not only misguiding, but also very discouraging.
However, I beg to differ. I write this post with an intention to share the beautiful experience with you as crisply as I possibly can, to clarify a few doubts that you may have about the course (my folks had plenty of doubts! So I’m guessing that others may have the same questions playing in their head, too) and to do my bit to encourage you to go for it in case you are planning to!
I know this comes in very late, almost a month after I attended my first vipassana meditation course. But then, better late than never!
Course duration: 10 days.
So now, first things first.
1. What is Vipassana?
Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It means to see things as they really are. It was rediscovered by Gautama Buddha more than 2500 years ago, and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills i.e. An art of living.
2. Why did I decide to go there?
Well honestly, I didn’t go there for any particular reason. I just wanted a break from the monotony of my daily schedule and wanted to spend some time with myself.
Over the last year, I realised that I had such a hectic schedule and such a busy life, that I hardly spent time alone because I always had something or the other to do. I had begun to dread spending time alone. I couldn’t even think of spending time without my phone or a book to read or a movie to watch or the laptop. Basically, I hardly spent any time in solitude and neither did I see any chance of that condition improving anytime soon.
So my only trigger to attend the course was to experience living on my own without any connectivity with anyone else, without my phone, without any books and without anything else to do.
Some time alone, just with myself. Without having to bother about anything else.
3. My experience, in my words:
When I shared my plan of attending the 10 day course with a few friends, I got three kinds of reactions:
a) From those who had not attended the course before: “Why do you want to go for it? Sudden plan? Do you have any problem?”
b) From those who had attended the course: “It is a wonderful experience! You may feel like running away on the second or third day, but hang in there! You will absolutely love it! ”
c) From those who had not attended the course, but planned to attend it soon: “Go for it! But will you be able to live with absolutely no contact with anyone you know? Let me know how it was! I want to go, too!”
To begin with, for me, it was the best ten days of my life! The experience, in more ways than one, is inexplicable.
On Day 0 (the day of arrival at Igatpuri), I was pretty much blank. I didn’t know what the course was going to be like, I didn’t know anybody there and most importantly, I didn’t have any expectations from the course. The no-expectation bit came from the fact that I didn’t go there with an intention to solve any physical/emotional problem or with any other pre-determined reason.
After having spent all my years in living the typical super-fast life of an average Mumbaikar, Day 1 made me feel like time had stopped! I remember looking at my watch at regular intervals, only to see time move at a snail’s pace! At the end of the day, I was so sure of one equation: 1 day in Igatpuri = 1 week in Mumbai. Yes, that’s how long the day was, in my opinion. I kept wondering how I’d pass the next 9 days if time had decided to go so slow.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, as I would later realize), Days 2 and 3 passed swiftly. I realized that I may have found Day 1 slow only because of the sudden change in routine. Days 2 and 3 were passed with dedicated practice and constantly being in a state of self-awareness.
It was on Day 4 that we were introduced to the technique of Vipassana. The remaining 6 days were spent in slowly understanding the technique more deeply and practicing it more diligently.
Of course, the end of each working day was marked with a 90 minute discourse from Shri S.N. Goenka-ji. Conducted in different languages (for the benefit of students coming from diverse backgrounds), these discourses gave us a deeper insight into the technique of Vipassana and the art of living.
So here’s my public reply to all the aforementioned reactions and concerns:
a) I didn’t go there to solve/cure any ‘problem’. You don’t have to be unwell or ill to go for vipassana! It is an art of living. A way of life! It is not a hospital to cure ailments and illnesses. You going there does not mean you have a problem! I went there to relax and to spend some time with the one person that I had always ignored all my life – myself. That’s it.
b) Yes, it was a wonderful experience and I did love it! Throughout Days 2 and 3, I kept waiting for the ‘I-want-to-run-away-from-here’ feeling to come to me, but it just didn’t! I was enjoying every moment in the beautiful campus and not once did I feel bored. No, not even for a second!
c) Yes, everyone should experience it at least once. I survived without my phone/book/laptop/internet/family/friends for 10 whole days. In fact, I did not miss any of them at all! By the end of the course, I almost forgot what my phone looked like, too! Which is good..because just like me, the phone also got some well deserved rest! 😉
4. The challenges I faced:
Honestly, there were none. The Assistant Professors (APs) were extremely knowledgeable and were always available for any help and guidance. They were open to discussion (we had special time slots arranged only for Q&A as well) and I managed to get all my doubts, concerns and questions answered.
Adjusting the body to the revised schedule (waking up at 4 am everyday) and to new eating habits (breakfast at 6.30 am, lunch at 11 am) took some efforts. But it was only a matter of a day, after which all was well!
5. What kept me motivated:
From the time the course began, I was sure of one thing: If I was investing 10 days of my time (missing work and without any contact with the family) in coming all the way to Igatpuri, then I’d much rather do the course properly. I made sure to follow all instructions and all rules as sincerely as I possibly could. Also, I was very determined to experience the benefits of the course. I knew for a fact that I just had to be there!
Also, a couple of friends had already the 10 day course before me. The fact that they completed their courses successfully much before me proved to be a major confidence booster!
Last but not the least, the weather! Having gone there in the last week of June, the weather was just perfect! The lush greenery, fog covered mountains, fresh air, beautiful rains and pleasant atmosphere only magnified the effect of all our meditation!
6. Some points to remember:
- The course instructions clearly mention that a Noble Silence has to be maintained through out the 10 days (Students are requested to maintain silence throughout the course and not interact with anybody other than the APs and Dhamma helpers).
However, there are bound to be people who will talk amongst themselves and try talking to you as well. In interest of your own progress in the course, avoid talking.
You will realize on Day 10, what a big difference it makes to maintain silence!
- A lot of people have concerns about the availability of food over there. You can absolutely trust me when I say that I loved the food! The food was not only healthy, but also very good to taste.
Also, no restrictions on the quantity of food to be taken by each student. It is a buffet, and you can help yourself to as many servings as you want.
- The laundry service is excellent! Available at a nominal rate, the laundry service helped tremendously in the rains. Your laundry will be returned to you on the very next day – washed and ironed!
- You are allowed to carry and take your medicines, whenever required.
- 3 meals are available during the day for first time students – Breakfast, lunch and snacks. However, exceptional approval for dinner is provided to pregnant women and to students with a medical condition (on providing the AP with a medical certificate).
- Vipassana is only a meditation technique revived by Gautama Buddha. The concept of “Buddhism” is not propagated by him or any faculty at the Vipassana centre. In fact, for them, no such word exists.
The teachings of Buddha are universal and non-sectarian i.e. they do not wish to convert anybody into any sect/religion/any other group.
No such religion such as ‘Buddhism’ is recognised by the institute of Dhamma and neither does the institution intend to drive anybody away from their religion.
- Once there, you will realize that kind people do exist, even today. The Dhamma Sevikas (Dhamma Helpers) were so kind and so helpful! In spite of having to make so many arrangements for 300 odd students, all of them were always smiling and ever ready to help. I was so used to the arrogance and crudeness of the city, that I was left completely overwhelmed with the kindness and niceness that I saw there.
You will realize that you always have an option, and the kinder you are, the more you make others happy and remain happy yourself!
- I would suggest, do not attend the course along with someone you already know (say, friends or siblings or parents). This is my personal opinion. You need your space once there, and the presence of someone you know may just end up making you feel conscious or distract you.
- Among other things, I came back from the course feeling much more confident of myself, feeling very very happy, having overcome a lot of my fears and insecurities. Having faced a lot of testing times immediately after my return from the course, I was glad and surprised (pleasantly) at how I handled myself and family during trying times. I don’t think I would have been able to remain as strong and as composed as I did, had I not had the beautiful experience of Vipassana.
- All you need is discipline, determination and a desire to complete the course successfully. You will experience the benefits of the course for yourself!
PS: I would really want to thank my parents and brother from the bottom of my heart for being completely supportive of my decision and encouraging me, always.
I would also like to thank them for making sure that I enjoyed my experience! They did not call me up in spite of there being an emergency at home only so that I could have enjoy the benefits of Vipassana. Thank you! :’)
Another big, big thank you to my friends – Sneha (for helping me get an independent accommodation and for being super enthusiastic about my course) and Gnanesh (for always encouraging me and for coming all the way to drop me to Igatpuri!).
A big thank you to everyone else who helped me attend the course in any way whatsoever (that includes my boss for approving a massive 10 day leave! :P)
And…thank you, Universe!
PPS: If there is anything else that you would like to know about the course, please feel free to ask! Would be happy to help! Good luck! 🙂