Questions & Answers About the Technique of Vipassana Meditation
Actually, the ten-day course is the minimum; it provides an essential introduction
and foundation to the technique. To develop in the practice is a lifetime job. Experience
over generations has shown that if Vipassana is taught in periods of less than ten
days, the student does not get a sufficient experiential grasp of the technique.
Traditionally, Vipassana was taught in retreats lasting seven weeks. With the dawning
of the 20th century, the teachers of this tradition began to experiment with shorter
times to suit the quickening pace of life. They tried thirty days, two weeks, ten
days, down to seven days--and they found that less than ten days is not enough time
for the mind to settle down and work deeply with the mind-body phenomenon.
The day begins at 4:00 a.m. with a wakeup bell and continues until 9:00 p.m. There
are about ten hours of meditation throughout the day, interspersed with regular
breaks and rest periods. Every evening at 7:00 p.m. there is a videotaped lecture
by the Teacher, S.N. Goenka, which provides a context for meditators to understand
their experience of the day. This schedule has proved workable and beneficial for
hundreds of thousands of people for decades.
The teaching is given through recordings of S.N. Goenka, speaking in English or
Hindi, together with a translation into a local language. Tape translations exist
in most of the major languages of the world, including English. If the teachers
conducting a course do not speak the local language fluently, interpreters will
be there to help. Language is usually no barrier for someone who wants to join a
Each student who attends a Vipassana course is given this gift by a previous student.
There is no charge for either the teaching, or for room and board. All Vipassana
courses worldwide are run on a strictly voluntary donation basis. At the end of
your course, if you have benefited from the experience, you are welcome to donate
for the coming course, according to your volition and your means.
Teachers receive no payment, donations or other material benefit. They are required
to have their own private means of support. This rule means that some of them may
have less time for teaching, but it protects students from exploitation and it guards
against commercialism. In this tradition, teachers give Vipassana purely as a service
to others. All they get is the satisfaction of seeing people's happiness at the
end of ten days.
Certainly. Chairs are provided for those unable to sit comfortably on the floor
because of age or a physical problem.
If your doctor has prescribed a special diet, let us know and we will see whether
we can provide what you need. If the diet is too specialized or would interfere
with meditation, we might have to ask you to wait until you can be more flexible.
We're sorry but students are required to choose from the food provided to them,
rather than bring food for themselves. Most people find the choice is ample and
they enjoy the simple vegetarian diet.
Pregnant women may certainly attend, and many women come specifically during pregnancy
to take advantage of the opportunity to work deeply and in silence during this special
time. We ask pregnant women to ensure they are confident that their pregnancy is
stable before applying. We provide the extra food they need and ask them to work
in a relaxed way.
All students attending the course observe "noble silence" — that is, silence of
body, speech and mind. They agree to refrain from communicating with their co-meditators.
However, students are free to contact the management about their material needs,
and to speak with the instructor. Silence is observed for the first nine full days.
On the tenth day, speech is resumed as a way of re-establishing the normal pattern
of daily life. Continuity of practice is the secret of success in this course; silence
is an essential component in maintaining this continuity.
For a person in reasonable physical and mental health who is genuinely interested
and willing to make a sincere effort, meditation (including "noble silence") is
not difficult. If you are able to follow the instructions patiently and diligently,
you can be sure of tangible results. Though it may appear daunting, the day's schedule
is neither too severe nor too relaxed. Moreover, the presence of other students
practicing conscientiously in a peaceful and conducive atmosphere lends tremendous
support to one's efforts.
Obviously someone who is physically too weak to follow the schedule will not be
able to benefit from a course. The same is true of someone suffering from psychiatric
problems, or someone undergoing emotional upheaval. Through a process of questions
and answers, we will be able to help you decide clearly beforehand whether you are
in a position to benefit fully from a course. In some cases applicants are asked
to get approval from their doctor before they can be accepted.
Many diseases are caused by our inner agitation. If the agitation is removed, the
disease may be alleviated or disappear. But learning Vipassana with the aim of curing
a disease is a mistake that never works. People who try to do this waste their time
because they are focusing on the wrong goal. They may even harm themselves. They
will neither understand the meditation properly nor succeed in getting rid of the
Again, the purpose of Vipassana is not to cure diseases. Someone who really practices
Vipassana learns to be happy and balanced in all circumstances. But a person with
a history of severe depression may not be able to apply the technique properly and
may not get the desired results. The best thing for such a person is to work with
a health professional. Vipassana teachers are meditation experts, not psychotherapists.
No. Vipassana teaches you to be aware and equanimous, that is, balanced, despite
all the ups and downs of life. But if someone comes to a course concealing serious
emotional problems, that person may be unable to understand the technique or to
apply it properly to achieve the desired results. This is why it is important to
let us know your past history so that we can judge whether you will benefit from
People from many religions and no religion have found the meditation course helpful
and beneficial. Vipassana is an art of living, a way of life. While it is the essence
of what the Buddha taught, it is not a religion; rather, it is the cultivation of
human values leading to a life which is good for oneself and good for others.
Vipassana is taught step by step, with a new step added each day to the end of the
course. If you leave early, you do not learn the full teaching and do not give the
technique a chance to work for you. Also, by meditating intensively, a course participant
initiates a process that reaches fulfillment with the completion of the course.
Interrupting the process before completion is not advisable.
The point is that leaving early is shortchanging yourself. You don't give yourself
a chance to learn the full technique and so you won't be able to apply it successfully
in daily life. You also interrupt the process in the middle rather than letting
it come to the proper conclusion. To get home a day or two early, you waste all
the time you have invested.
The tenth day is a very important transition back to ordinary life. No one is permitted
to leave on that day.