9 Reasons why Vippassana is the most effective meditation teaching tool today

You may have heard of Vipassana meditation.  Vipassana means 'to see things as they are', and their centers around the world provide a space and a proper setting for students to come in and experience things: just as they are.  The first for anyone is a 10-day course, and it is very rigorous, as in: complete silence; internal focus (no looking around);  two meals and a very light dinner (for new students); men and women separated; no reading writting or asana practice.  But the rewards from such 10 days are of great value.

Many ashtanga teachers recognize the value of Vipassana, recently fellow blogger Bindy posted about her commitment and desire to return to a course as an old student (old students are those who have completed a first 10 day course), and Kinno MacGregor talks about it in the courses in her audio casts.  I have tried other methods but find that Vipassana is the most effective and adequate to practice together with a daily asana practice.

Yoga teachers tend to focus on just asana, or maybe asana and pranayama (poses and breathing exercises), leaving everyone else to figure out where to go for meditation instruction, here are the 9 reasons why I think Vipassana is the place to go, as always, do your own research and come to your own conclusions:

1-It is based on direct instructions from the Buddha
This is what Vipassana teachers claim.  When I asked John Campbell about this he was not so quick to say, there are many currents of thoughts and the reality is that we cannot say with certainty that indeed this is how the Buddha taught.  However, I have to say that the lack of fluff (see point two), makes me wonder and adds validity to the claim.

2-There is no fluff
There is no mantra, japa, breathing techniques or anything involved, the total focus is on concentration.  The third upper limbs of yoga are concentration, meditation and samadhi (enlightenment).  Vipassana aims towards exactly that, the course starts with three days of just breathing and focusing on the tip of the nose.  This may sound like a long time but it is not when you realize how difficult it is to just sit and pay attention to the inflow of air. It is an enormous task.  I equate this to an attempt at concentration.  Even if all you get is knowledge of how difficult it is to concentrate that is in itself very valuable.  The course then goes on to more advanced techniques directed at leading students towards actual meditations, or rather "setting the conditions for it", as meditation itself is not something we "do" but rather something that "happens to us" when certain conditions are met.

3-Meditation and very basic body needs are the only activities allowed
A very funny friend of mine described what happens at a Vipassana retreat in four steps -you eat, -you sleep, -you poo, -you meditate.  That's it! nothing else.  The focus and space created by the amazing volunteers that provide service is very effective.  People are even advised to bring enough clothes so that laundry can be minimized and the focus completely directed towards meditation.  All cell phones, books and papers are surrendered at the beginning of the course, hence limiting distractions.

4-Men and women are separated
In the meditation hall men sit on the right and women on the left (from the point of view of the teacher), and they never mingle, dorms as well as dinning halls are separated.  This allows for all the sexual tension to vanish.  And there is a lot that we hold on to whenever we know that we will be interacting with the opposite sex.  Being free from these details allows even more space.  I am not sure how this works for people who are gay, I suppose it would be interesting to hear what their thoughts are.

5-Food is good, but not great
Food is served after morning meditation and at noon, and it is healthy and tasty, but not great.  One of the administrators of the course I was in told me that it was so that students would be nurtured but would not get attached to the food.  She also said that the people doing service need to check on their own agendas if they felt like making food more "tasty" to if they would be trying to "please" or "get attention from the practitioners".  I thought that this was a very good point, a thoughtful one.  Old students are not allowed to have dinner, other than tea with no sugar or milk. Dinner for first time students is very light, and this ends up helping with meditation.

6-It takes about 3 days for any mind to begin to quiet down
I was surprised to hear that after day 3 things would change.  For the first three days we worked very hard on concentration, just on the  way the air comes in and out of the nostrils.  Then things get a little deeper, and more interesting.  Of course "interesting" is probably not the best word, as we are trying to get away from "interesting" or "curious" and into the silence, and allowing the right conditions for meditation to happen.

Other students in my course had amazing realizations. One girl I talked to on the dinner hall at the end of the course mentioned that she saw herself disappear and merge with the rest.  I wish I had such experiences, but I did not.   These are not ideas we should get attached to, but I suppose it made me realize the power of the course if followed properly, with right attitude and dedication.

7-The lectures increase in depth as the days go by
The lectures at the end of each day feel like pearls of wisdom, they help in going deeper and in detaching from the whole practice.  Mr S.N. Goenka delivers these teachings in each and every retreat thought video.  Videos are also available in a few other languages other than English.  I had never ever heard a meditation teacher go as deep as he goes in the teachings, in the exact instructions nor did I ever felt them resonate so truthfully within me.  I will not go into the details as I believe anyone interested should attend a course and hear them first hand.

8-It is free
Well, not really, at the end of a course there is a suggested donation and a speech that goes with it so people are educated on how much it cost to maintain a center, which is not cheap.  I believe that effective teachers should always be paid for their services, because they are adding value to others, and the amount we pay reflects how much we care and appreciate the instructions.  Nevertheless, nobody is turned down from a course and their marketing line on this is that they do not charge because spreading the truth should be free.  I think this is a wonderful opportunity for any person truly interested in meditation to take advantage of.

9-It has a "maintenance" program
After leaving the course people are instructed on how to maintain their practice.  This might be sometimes not possible depending on the stage of life/yoga one is at, for example, for a married couple with children it could potentially be difficult to up-keep an hour meditation routine both in the morning and in the afternoon, but for those who can it certainly leaves them with the tools and the preparation to continue the practice.

Here is their main website.

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5 comments:

  1. these are such great reasons, kind of makes me want to do it (but don't think I'm quite ready yet!) Thank you for sharing!

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  2. you are welcome Christina, I think you would like it :-)

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  3. 3 more weeks-i got my classes all covered. i guess it is meant to be. i don't know what i would do without this meditation technique. it's kind of addicting. are you going again soon? it will be interesting to see what a short course feels like. i have to get back to another 10 day but it's hard on the budget these days taking all that time off of work unfortunately.

    christina-no one is "ready"-you just go as you are. when i did it, tons of people had never even meditated before. some sat in a chair. it's like going to india. there's no way to prepare.

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  4. Bfibbb I am so happy for you, and yes I agree, it is int he cards, it happens when it is meant to... I am planning on it. Every time I planned a big meditation retreat, if it was not the "right time", (I suppose) the universe managed to send my way incredible difficulties, I was lucky to get on my first ten day last July. I hope the planets align again soon, definitely want to! Hope you blog about your new adventure, that is, if you feel like sharing, as I agree with your last post that some things are best kept secret

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  5. read your post are always giving motivation

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