Vipassanā @ Merrit, BC, Canada

Vipassanā is a practical and logical method to purify your brain from cravings, aversions and ignorance.  It is an ancient and sacred spiritual practice which has been passed down for 2500 years.  It is not a ritual and has nothing to do with any organized religion or sectarianism.

Dhamma Surahbi is one of 158 international centers – located in Merrit, BC, Canada – where Vipassanā is taught and practiced.  As a beginner, one must take a 10-day course to learn this meditation technique.  Once a 10-day course has been completed, registration for a 1, 2, 3, 10, 20, 30, or 45-day retreats are possible.

Today, I completed a 10-day course from December 24, 2014 to January 4, 2015.  In this post, I will be sharing some of my experiences with you.

At these retreats, noble silence is observed.  That means no talking for 10 days! Technically, you can only talk to the Men’s Manager (for basic necessities – or the Women’s Manager if you are a woman) and the Assistant Teacher (for questions regarding your practice).  The last time I didn’t speak for 10 days straight was over 3 decades ago, when I first learned how to speak!!

On top of that, you are not allowed to use a cellphone, read, draw, listen to music, watch TV, exercise, make eye contact, communicate using gestures, take part in any sensual pleasures or any form of entertainment.  You basically, just mediate, eat, mediate, eat, meditate, watch the teacher’s discourse, meditate and sleep – for 10 days in complete silence.

The following 5 precepts must be observed during the course:

  1. to abstain from killing any being;
  2. to abstain from stealing;
  3. to abstain from all sexual activity;
  4. to abstain from telling lies;
  5. to abstain from all intoxicants.

The schedule that is strictly observed (~ 10 hours of meditation per day):

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
noon-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

Try to arrive early.  Because when you do, you have time to speak to some of your peers before the silence commences.  Towards the end of the course, I starting feeling some great animosity against those who I didn’t get to know before the silence began.  This agitation was based purely on their body language – which I misinterpreted completely.  I realized this at the end of the course when I could talk to them.  More on that later.

I was really unprepared.  I forgot to pack: a pillow, a blanket, a towel, soap, shampoo, shaving cream, razor or even enough clothes.  I still managed to take showers – by squeezing hand soap in a cup and drying myself with paper towels.  Even I started laughing at my situation.  The center can provide you with some of these basic necessities in case you forgot them; but I decided to make things more difficult for myself to increase my appreciation and effort.

The meals they offer are vegetarian and very delicious.  You won’t even have a problem being vegan here.  Everything is prepared by volunteers at this center for you, so that you can strictly focus on your meditation.  There are many different types of foods to choose from.  However, if you look at the schedule closely – no dinner!  At first, it may seem like a big deal, but you get used to it.  They offer fruits during the tea break for all beginners.  Talk about getting a total body cleanse – I haven’t eaten so healthy and well in my life!

Now f0r to the actual course and my progression through it:

Day 0 (Christmas Eve):  As I mentioned before, arrive early to meet your peers.  I realized that this event attracts curious, adventurous, spiritual people who love to experience life.  We are given a small dorm room housing anywhere from 1-4 occupants.  Men and women stay on opposite sides.  The only time you see women is during the group meditation session, which takes place in a hall.  Even there we sit in a specific spot, separated by gender and ranked according to how many courses you have completed with the newest ones at the back.

On the Men’s side, there were more old students than new students.  In fact, only 9 out of 24 students were new.  Some had completed this course either 2, 5, 15, or 56 times in the past.  That’s right 56!  He hasn’t been unhappy/angry/sad in over 20 years!  He was a Vietnam war veteran shooting soldiers from a helicopter using a machine gun. And now he has dedicated his life towards spirituality and basically lived by going to different Vipassanā centers throughout the world.  If students are coming back in great majority, then this technique must be working effectively.

Day 1 (Christmas Day): The course begins bright an early at 4 AM.  A bell rings in the hallway and all of the men come of out of their rooms in complete silence.  We have 30 minutes to get ready for our first meditation session.  The atmosphere was totally new to me.  My first thought was, did I just check myself into a jail or a mental institution?

We sit down in the meditation hall and suddenly you hear this voice coming from the speakers.  Wow this is creepy!  Some chant.  I had no idea what was going on.  This voice was the teacher – Satya Narayan Goenka – who guides all lectures and frequently chants throughout the course.  He is actually quite funny, smart and interesting.

During the Teacher’s Discourse (at 7 PM every day), a video clip of the teacher is shown where he discusses spirituality, beliefs, god, human existence, science, matter, mind and various other fascinating topics.  He also summarizes how you probably feel at this point in time.  As a matter of fact, he was pretty much right on in all of his descriptions.

Day 2:  This day is considered hard day for some, but was not much of a problem for me.  I noticed how my mind loves to wander – all the time!  Focusing on a simple task, like following your breath, is actually quite difficult to do in practice.

Day 3: I started getting some VERY weird dreams and some VERY odd thoughts inside my head.  In the video lecture, the teacher noted that this was quite normal.  All of your deep, sub-conscious thoughts are going to bubble up to the top.  It is a process of purification.  He calls it – a surgical procedure of the mind.

Day 4 (My birthday): Happy birthday to me!  I decided to walk bare foot everywhere for this entire day to celebrate my birthday.  In my life, this would be the very first birthday where I did not create a single sound.  It turned out to be the most important day of the course as well.  On this day, we were actually taught Vipassanā!  The first 3 days are “warm-up” to increase the awareness of the mind and prepare it for the next stage, Vipassanā.

Day 5:  Lunch was delicious!  It was so good that I quickly signed up for a meeting with the assistant teacher (who is present on-site, the teacher who you hear over audio/video passed away in 2013).  I went to him and said: “Forgive me, but I am attached to the food.  Every time the bell rings at 11 AM, my mouth waters!”

Day 6:  This was by far the most difficult day for me.  I wasn’t considering leaving early at any point, but I could not sit still for 1 hour straight.  On Day 5 – you will be asked to not move for 1 hour during the practice of Vipassanā.  I just couldn’t do it.  Too much pain.  Too unbearable.  I felt defeated and so my progress took a hit.  Two women left on this day too.

I heard tears in the far corner.  It can be an emotional experience depending on which thoughts bubble up in your brain.  Some get a major burst of anger, agitation, sadness, madness etc.  It is different for all.  It will be different for you.

Day 7 (New Year’s Day):  This would be the first day that I could actually sit for 1 hour without any major movements!  I was really proud of myself.  Because when you open your eyes – which you shouldn’t do – and see how well and straight everybody else was sitting and meditating, it makes you doubt yourself on whether you are fit for this type of meditation.  I had a quick chat with the assistant teacher and realized that I was doing something wrong!  I persevered and it paid off.  Big time.  The next day.

Day 8:  Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  This was one of my best experiences during meditation here.  I can’t describe it for you because your experience would be different anyway.  But it was something I have never felt before in my life.  It took me a while to understand the technique.  I guess this is why they have a 10-day course because had I left earlier, I wouldn’t have learned it.

Day 9:  My weird thoughts have all disappeared at this point.  There were times when I could feel, communicate and understand the world around me using only sensations created inside of me.  However, I did become really restless at this point.  I understood the technique and now I wanted to go home.  Second most difficult day.  Someone left the room crying.

Day 10:  The noble silence ban was lifted.  We all shared our experiences.  I realized that everybody was really kind and friendly.  During the course, my mind painted visualizations regarding some peers whom I had never talked to.  I thought I knew their personality – which I magically gathered during the noble silence – and I was wrong.  Way wrong.

In conclusion, it was definitely one of the most amazing experiences; extremely challenging and extremely rewarding.  The facilities were clean, food was great and my peers were supportive and interesting.  Also, ask the assistant teacher to make sure you are practicing correctly!  I made some new friends, which I intend to learn a lot from.

Honestly, 10-days is a small sacrifice to learn a lot more about yourself.  I highly encourage you to give it a chance.  By the way, the course does not cost a single penny.  It is purely based on donations.  And if you enjoyed it, your donations will be used to support the next interested student.

If you want to watch a fascinating documentary regarding criminals being taught Vipassanā and their effects on them, please consider the following video:

God bless all living, non-living, moving, and non-moving creatures on earth, because they are all truly One and the same.  sādhusādhusādhu.


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