Joshua & Vipassana; FAQ (Part 1)

I recently participated in a 10-day silent meditation course to learn/practice one of the most ancient techniques of meditation, Vipassana. Since returning about a week ago, I've been slowly getting back into the swings, and in that brief time, I've already had a couple dozen conversations about my experience. I'm writing a mini blog series to codify my thoughts.

This will be the first of three (3) posts about this experience, written in a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) format. There will be a list of further reading at the end of this post. My partner did it together with me; here's Part 1 and Part 2 of what she wrote about her experiences.

  • Part 1 (this post) - a general overview, some logistical questions
  • Part 2 - specifics about my experience before, during, and after
  • Part 3 - recommendations for people who'd like to give it a go

What is Vipassana? 

Vipassana is one of the oldest meditation techniques dating as far as 2,500 years ago. The 10-day residential course is taught by S.N. Goenka, and explores the basic method of meditation through self-observation. It is not affiliated with any sort of religion, rite or ritual and can be practiced by people from all walks of life. The intention being the removal of universal ills, fostering love and compassion for all beings. Links for further reading at the bottom of this post.

Where did you do it?

Just outside Merritt, BC at a meditation centre called Dhamma Surabhi. It was a comfortable 2.5 hour drive from downtown Vancouver, keeping within the speed limit along the drive. 

There are over 100 places in the world that offer similar courses. This is the only centre in BC that offers the 10-day courses right now. There are two other meditation centres in BC that offer shorter (1-3 day) courses for students who have already completed a 10-day basic course. 

You can't talk?

Nope. There is a strict Code of Discipline that meditators agree to undertake for the duration of the course. One part is called the Noble Silence, which means silence of body, speech, and mind. You agree to not use any form of communication with fellow students, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, sounds, etc.

Well, I guess I should elaborate a little more on this point... 

  • You can talk on Day 0 when you arrive, register, get settled, etc. Starting from a designated time (for me, it was 2000 hrs), the Noble Silence begins.
  • Throughout the course, you can still talk to the on-site manager about any material problems you may encounter (accommodations, food, etc.). Similarly, you can speak with the (assistant) teacher with questions about the technique, your meditation, etc. This should be kept to a minimum though since you should work as though you're in isolation.
  • Finally, on Day 10, after a certain time (can't remember when this was), Noble Silence ends and you can communicate with fellow students. No outside communication though.

What do you eat?

The food served is vegetarian. The menu changes daily and strives to provide a wholesome, balanced nutritious meal which is suitable for meditation. The food does not subscribe to any particular food philosophy. I remember being served a variety of meals which had their origins from North America, South America, East Asia, and Africa. 

I should also note that there is no dinner served. It is a tea break in the evening. For new students, you have the option to take fruit with your tea in the evening. Old students (i.e. those who have completed a 10-day course before) abstain from eating after midday; I saw them mostly taking tea or lemon water in the evening.

...wait, no dinner!? What!? Didn't you starve? We'll get to that in Part 2 :) 

What's the sleeping situation?

Think summer camp. There is a main building with different rooms which house 1-4 people. The living arrangement is very simple: there is a single or bunk bed with a soft mattress and a nightstand. Minimal distractions so that students can properly focus on their meditation. 

There was also the option for students to being their own tent to sleep in. The tent area is about 100 steps away from the main building.

What was the schedule like?

There is a schedule designed to maintain continuity of practice, with regular breaks in between to re-energize the meditator. It varies a little on a couple days, but is generally as follows:

  • 0400 - wake up gong
  • 0430-0630 - meditation, location of your choice (room, common area, or meditation hall)
  • 0630-0800 - breakfast break
  • 0800-0900 - group meditation (mandatory; in meditation hall)
  • 0900-1100 - meditation, according to teacher's instructions
  • 1100-1300 - lunch break
  • 1300-1430 - meditation, location of your choice
  • 1430-1530 - group meditation (mandatory; in meditation hall)
  • 1530-1700 - meditation, according to teacher's instructions
  • 1700-1800 - tea break
  • 1800-1900 - group meditation (mandatory; in meditation hall)
  • 1900-2015 - nightly discourse (mandatory; in meditation hall)
  • 2015-2100 - group meditation (mandatory; in meditation hall)
  • 2100 2130 - get ready for lights out, sleep
  • 2130 - lights out

How much did you have to pay? 

The course is offered completely by donation (i.e. instruction, equipment, lodging, food, service). This provides equal opportunity for people to attend, learn, and reap the benefits of the technique, regardless of their current financial situation. 

Donations are accepted after the course is over, and only if the participant successfully completes the 10-day course. There is no minimum donation, nor even a suggested amount. Students can (and do) donate in several ways: one-time or regular financial contributions, returning to serve for a 10-day course, volunteering their expertise, sharing the technique with others, etc.

How often do these courses run?

After completing the course, we received some more information about other 10-day courses offered at the Dhamma Surabhi meditation centre. Turns out, 10-day courses are run twice a month throughout most of the year. You can apply for a seat on the Dhamma Surabhi website.

...why would you do this!? What did you think of it???

Read more about my personal experience with Vipassana in Part 2 of this mini series :) or, if you're already prepared to apply for a 10-day course, see my advice in Part 3 of this mini series.


Further reading: