Bodhgaya was a fitting place for me to attend my first vipassana meditation course, as it is home to the very tree where Buddha reached enlightenment!
When I first signed up for the 10 day vipassana course in this location, it was solely on recommendation from a friend; I didn’t know the historical or spiritual significance of the place.
But after completing the course in this location, I felt more enlightened myself, and I found the Dhamma Bodi center complete with private accommodation, a meditation pagoda, and overall full of amazing energy – a perfect recipe for deep meditation.
If you are not familiar with vipassana mediation courses, they are 10 days of complete silence, immersed in meditation.
The courses are held worldwide, and on pure donation, led by recordings and videos of S.N Goenka. Goenka teaches a pure, non secular mediation style, in the Buddhist tradition.
What I liked about this course is that it is very scientific, and applies to anyone and everyone. If you have a body and a mind, you can learn and benefit from this course. The lessons I learned from this course were very valuable to me, and I try to apply them to situations in my everyday life.
Now, I know what you are thinking, “How could I be silent for 10 days?” Well even I had my doubts about my ability not to talk, to follow the strict routine, and to be completely disconnected from the world for 10 days without even a journal to write in or a book to read.
And at first, the course really challenged me. I struggled with emotions, repressed memories, nightmares, and body pains. There were a few long hours I felt like I was in total physical and mental agony. I thought I might have to leave! (And I never quit).
But on the fourth day, everything changed and I felt the true beauty and power of meditation. After this day, I got so excited at some points I wanted to leave again, but this time only so I could share the beautiful practice with everyone in my life.
But by the end of the course, I learned that silence can sometimes be best, so I won’t share too many details about my personal experience because the experience of vipassana is very different for every person.
I will say the course taught me very important life lessons, including how to combat, and control emotions, and how to better live in the present moment and simply enjoy being. It made me aware that I can be completely silent and alone for 10 days, with absolutely no entertainment, yet completely content and at times even filled with joy.
As for the details of the course, I will tell you the basics, but the rest can very easily be found online, on any of the vipassana center websites.
The course begins at 4:30am, they ring a bell to wake you and everyone meets in the meditation room for morning meditation.
Breakfast is served at 6:30, and I really enjoyed the breakfast, it was very nice Indian style breakfast, and almost always vegan.
After breakfast there is a small break for taking a shower and resting, and then back to the meditation room for a few more sessions before lunch.
Lunch is served at 11, and the food again was very nice, and very vegan, except for some yogurt served on the side.
After lunch there is long rest, which you should try your best not to fall asleep during, but let me be honest, this was very difficult! But by the last days of the course I was on board with the schedule and wasn’t so sleepy.
In the afternoon there are a few more mediation sessions, and then a snack and tea are served at 5:00. The snack was fruit and some sort of puffed rice.
After snack we meditate again, until 7:00 when the teacher’s discourse takes place.
From 8-9 we meditate again, and then it’s off to bed!
Don’t have fear concerning the timings of this course, when you are all alone with nothing to do, and only mediating all the day, your body will very quickly adjust to the program. Even after leaving I was struggling to stay awake past 7pm each day, and was waking up naturally around 6am.
On the final day of the course, we were finally allowed to talk to each other. At first, I couldn’t imagine words coming out of my mouth anymore. I actually went to my room and cried because I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t feel ready!
But I knew I had to talk again sometime, so I pulled myself together and left my room to collect my cell phone, computer, and books. The first person I saw on the way was a Japanese girl I met on the first day of the course. She greeted me with a big hug, and once I started talking, I wanted to talk so much – we all did!
After seeing the same people for 10 days, and wondering what their stories were, it was good to hear their voices, and discuss our experiences together. Everyone was so happy, and it felt like we had accomplished something great together, even though the experience was completely individual.
We also found out about the big earthquake in Nepal that day. A few days prior, we felt the quake in Bodhgaya, which is just south of Nepal, but since we weren’t able to communicate with each other or with the outside world, so we had had no idea what taken place.
Personally, I didn’t feel the earthquake, I think I must have been in a meditative trace or something at the time, because everyone else felt it and some people told me they ran out of their rooms. But after hearing the news, I saw there was some minor damage around the property.
So would I recommend this course to others? Absolutely! For me, it was a life changing experience. I will always remember these 10 days, maybe not the details of each day, but the lessons learned. Actually, I feel vipassana is so valuable, I plan on doing the course again upon my return to India in November to deepen my practice. I wonder what will be different the second time around…
Have you ever attended a vipassana course? What did you think? Would you do it again?