Vipassana Meditation Center

Although the ancient technique of Vipassana meditation was practiced by Lord Buddha in India, it isn’t only popular with Indians. Many travelers take time out to study Vipassana in India. This style of meditation is derived from Theravada Buddhism, although the course is free of religious teachings.

Vipassana was reintroduced into India in the 1970s by S.N.Goenka, a retired industrialist who was born in Myanmar but had Indian heritage. The Vipassana meditation course is a 10-day silent residential program that focuses on observing the breath and bodily sensations. Days begin at 4.30 a.m., so it’s not for the faint of heart. However, the course, food and accommodations are all free of charge.

Do note that the course structure is identical at all centers, as the same instructional audio and video is used. There’s no variation in routine. It’s only the environment and facilities, such as hot water and shared rooms, that differ. The bigger centers also have pagodas with individual meditation cells, in addition to a meditation hall for everyone. They are also better equipped for foreigners. The 10-day courses are generally conducted twice a month throughout the year.

Dhamma Pattana, Mumbai

The Dhamma Pattana Vipassana meditation center is part of the magnificent Global Pagoda complex that opened in 2009 near the beach-side Goran, in the outer norther suburbs of Mumbai. The building is modern, and all rooms are equipped with western facilities and air conditioning. The distinctive feature of the 10-day course taught here is that it’s specifically geared towards business executives and professionals. The technique is the same but the course contains additional talks related to using Vipassana principles for dealing with stresses of the business world. The courses fill up very fast and must be booked well in advance.

Dhamma Giri, Igatpuri

The world’s largest Vipassana meditation center, known as Dhamma Giri, is located at the Vipassana Research Institute at Ligature in Maharashtra. It’s around three hours from Mumbai and is accessible by train. The center offered its first course to the public in 1976, and now tens of thousands study there every year. The 10-day courses are always in high demand. Despite the center’s substantial size, there’s a pervasive feeling of peace all around. Over 400 cells are available for individual meditation, which is appealing for those who want to undertake intensive practice in solitude away from other people. The accommodations range from dormitory rooms to single occupancy rooms.

Dhamma Thali, Jaipur

Dhamma Thali has the largest capacity after Dhamma Giri in Igatpuri and can accommodate 200 students. This center is also one of the oldest ones in India. Its sprawling campus was built in 1977, amid hills on the outskirts of Jaipur near the Gal ta Monkey Temple. Students appreciate the center’s serene location, and the fact that it’s frequented by peacocks and friendly monkeys. About 20% of students are foreigners. The center has a rustic appeal with stone walkways running through it, four meditation halls (two large and two small), and a pagoda with 200 meditation cells. There are single and shared accommodations of varying standards. The newer rooms have western toilets and showers, while you can expect buckets and squat toilets in the others. Make sure you arrive early to increase your chances of getting a good room. 04 of 15

Dhamma Bodhi, Bodh Gaya

If you fancy meditating at the place where Lord Buddha became enlightened, head to Dhamma Bodhi Vipassana meditation center in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. The recently expanded compound is set on 18 acres of grounds to the west of town, surrounded by agricultural fields near Magadha University. 10-day courses generally start on the first and 16th of every month. There’s space for around 80 students at a time. November to February are the busiest months, with foreigners from all over the world attending. Accommodations are provided in single or double cottages with attached bathrooms. The beneficial thing about studying Vipassana meditation in Bodh Gaya is that courses in Buddhist philosophy are also provided by other local organizations. This is convenient for those with an interest in Buddhism. Continue to 5 of 15 below.

signed up for a Vipassana course in a moment of quiet desperation. I was coming up on close to a year of insomnia. I found myself exhausted by the anxiety of not sleeping, yet unable to find any meaningful rest. For the first time in my life I was having panic attacks. Nightly, they were triggered by the dawning realization that sleep would elude me yet again.

I was also dealing with chronic pain. A bad accident as a kid followed by a series of rib fractures and back injuries over the years generated a state of permanent hurt made worse with the lack of sleep and an excess of cortisol.

I chose this specific course, which took place in New Zealand, because despite the trendiness of meditation classes and apps, Vipassana seemed to be about equanimity, discipline and hard work – right up my alley. I am not the most woo woo of humans, and the idea of a giant drum circle of positive thinkers made me want to run away screaming.

Vipassana is different from mindfulness meditation, which focuses on awareness, or to transcendental meditation, which uses a mantra. Instead, it dictates a blanket command of non-reaction. No matter the pain as you sit, or the fact that your hands and legs fall asleep and that your brain is crying for release. You are instructed to refocus attention on the objective sensations in your body, arising and falling, as you do a scan of your limbs in a specific order. By doing so, over 10 days, you train yourself to stop reacting to the vicissitudes of life.

While descended from Buddhism, the modern-day courses are secular in nature. The father of these retreats is the late SN Goenka, who was raised in Myanmar and learned Vipassana from monks there.

When a friend asked me why I was willingly heading into solitary confinement, especially since I had never meditated before, I told her I wanted to break my brain and put it back together again.

“I need to de frag my hard drive,” I quipped. “It isn’t running efficiently.” I compared it to hiring a personal trainer to help me at a first-ever gym session.

She disagreed.

“No, it’s like running a marathon having never run before. Jodi what are you doing to yourself?”

Facebook Twitter P interest The grounds of the mediation retreat near Auckland. Photograph: Jodi Ettenberg

On the first day, a bell rang outside my door at 4am, reminding me that despite the darkness, it was time to wake up. Advertisement

I was not, nor will I ever be, a morning person. I felt a rush of anger rise up in me when I heard that sound, and fantasized about taking the gong and flinging it into the forest. So much for equanimity.

I tumbled out of my cot and got ready for the 4.30am meditation session. The first day’s focus was on awareness of breath. That’s it. When your mind moved from that awareness you brought your mind back to the fact that you breathe. The simplicity of this instruction felt incredibly futile.

I had a hard time focusing on my breath because of the persistent burning in my back. Regardless of how many pillows I piled under my knees, it bubbled up until it hit a crescendo.

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