Interlude: Vipassana

The art of living

August 27, 2019

After visiting Myanmar and before heading further into Thailand, I took a ten-day break from travelling to take part in a Vipassana meditation retreat. Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique that was re-discovered by Siddhartha Gautama, the later Buddha, on his way to enlightenment. After he had reached enlightenment, it was this very Vipassana technique that he taught to his students for the rest of his life. He believed that enlightenment was not something that could be achieved only by certain, special people, but indeed by everyone, and Vipassana was the technique to achieve this. During his lifetime, Vipassana spread rapidly throughout northern India, reaching millions of students. In the centuries to come, however, it got spoiled and mixed with other techniques until what was called Vipassana did not have much in common with the original form. The pure technique was only preserved in neighboring Myanmar from where S.N. Goenka re-introduced it into India in 1969. Since then, it has spread rapidly again, but this time not only in India, but globally. Today, courses are held in over 200 centers around the world.

Even though it was taught by Buddha, Vipassana is not a specifically Buddhist meditation, nor is it attached to any other religion. Rather, it can be and is practiced by anybody, independent of age, gender, sex, religion, nationality, etc. “Vipassana” is an old Indian word meaning “insight” into the world as it really is. While this insight can be achieved through meditation, Vipassana is not only a meditation technique, but rather a path towards a happy life free from suffering. Therefore, Vipassana is sometimes called “The art of living”. To apply the technique in your daily life, it is not enough to read books or listen to talks, but you have to experience it through your own body. That’s where the 10 day-courses in which I took part come into play.

Courses are held in Vipassana centers. After arriving at our center in eastern Thailand, we deposited all communication tools, books, writing material and anything else which might distract us from our inner self at the reception. For the same reason, we were not supposed to leave the center during the course to avoid external influences. Another important element of the courses is committing to not speaking for the ten days of the course, again to prevent our minds from distracting themselves by talking to others. Only if we had questions about the technique or logistics, we could talk to the teacher or the management. After these preparations, meditation started according to a schedule that was identical throughout the course: Get up at 4 am, meditate around 10 hours each day interrupted by breaks for food and rest, go to bed at 9 pm. Besides meditation, one hour each evening was dedicated to a discourse where intellectual explanations for the technique were given. The main focus of the course was, however, not on this intellectual element, but on experiencing the technique through our own bodies and our own practice.

For me personally, this practice was anything but pleasant at all times. In the beginning, pain was mostly physical as my body had to adapt to sitting for 10 hours a day cross-legged. But that passed away quite quickly. What the technique does essentially is to bring to the surface old emotional pain that is stored in our subconsciousness. When this pain comes up during meditation, it might also manifest as physical pain. But in doing so, it will eventually dissolve and purify our subconsciousness. Keeping this in mind, I found the pain I experienced more than worthwhile bearing – it is the door opener to freeing ourselves from old behavioral patterns and to making one step further on our path into a happy life.

As experiences during Vipassana are highly individual, I don’t want to give any more details about what I experienced or what the technique is about. Rather, I can only recommend everybody who reads these lines to try it out yourself. The course had a profound effect on how I see the world and, more importantly, how I want to live from now on. Give it a try! Courses are free and donation-based. There is a number of Vipassana centers in Europe, but as the courses are becoming very popular, you need to reserve a place several months in advance. If you happen to be in South-East Asia, there are many more centers there and it’s typically not a problem to find a spot. You can find a list with all centers worldwide here:

Locations of Vipassana course centers

If you first want to read about the technique, I can recommend this book:

William Hart -The art of living. Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka (clicking on the link will download a free PDF of the book)

Another book which I have just read expresses essentially the same idea as Vipassana, but gives more tips on how to apply it practically in everyday life – I found it highly inspiring:

Eckhart Tolle – The power of now. A guide to spiritual enlightenment

And lastly, if you have any questions about the course or my experiences, feel free to contact me – I’ll be happy to share my impressions 😊