Gohenka’s vipassana on the island of the gods
After having such a great vipassana experience at the Bali Usada Tapa Brata Meditation Retreat, I wanted more. A good friend and fellow meditator told me about a Burmese monk that was coming to Bali to lead a Vipassana Retreat at the Brahma Vihara Arama in the North of the island, and that he was top in his field for mindfulness training.
It’s safe to say I was intrigued.
I had only been meditating for about 7 weeks at this point, yet was very eager to learn and experience more. For those unfamiliar, “vipassana” means “insight”, and a vipassana retreat is traditionally a noble silent retreat (no speaking, gesturing, or eye contact) with a very rigid schedule of alternating walking and sitting meditation. Reading, writing, listening to music, or doing any other discipline or practice (such as yoga) is usually forbidden as the journey is intended to be fully inward and introspective.
The retreat was held at the Buddhist monastery near Singaraja in North Bali, a beautiful location atop a hill overlooking the coastline with some amazing energy. Upon registering as retreat participants we were given a book of Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s teachings, which we were expected to read during the vipassana retreat. Right then, I knew this wasn’t going to be the average vipassana. (The term ‘Sayadaw’ is Burmese for senior monk or abbot of a monastery, often referring to influential teachers of the Buddhist Dhamma and also important meditation practitioners.)
Sayadaw U Tejaniya began his Buddhist training as a young teenager in Burma under the late Shwe Oo Min Sayadaw. After a career in business and life as a householder, he has been a resident monk since 1996. He teaches meditation at Shwe Oo Min Dhamma Sukha Forest Meditation Center in Yangon, Myanmar. He is relaxed and easy to talk with and has an excellent sense of humor, always quick to laugh. In fact, we all laughed a lot at this vipassana retreat!
During the opening session with Sayadaw, he explained that he does not insist on silence, noble or otherwise, as he does not want this retreat experience to be that far removed from our daily lives. He feels that the closer the retreat is to our daily activities, the easier it will be to integrate the teachings and apply the principles to our daily lives. All that he asked was that if we spoke, we spoke mindfully. In fact, everything we did, we were expected to do mindfully and with full awareness. We were instructed to read the compilation of dhamma talks and teachings that be had presented to us upon registering. We could speak, practice yoga or any other discipline if we choose to, as long as we did all of the these things mindfully and with full awareness.
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The schedule was rather light aswell, the usual wake-up gong at 4:00 am (standard at these retreats), with breakfast at 6:30am, a group meditation at 9:00am, lunch at 11:00, question and answer dhamma talks at 3:00 and 7:00 pm. (There was no dinner, following Buddha’s 8 precepts, one of which is no food after noon when studying.) The rest of the time we were left to our own devices. We were expected to spend a good amount of time meditating and of course we were expected to read the teachings, but there were no specific requirements. This is what I am calling a ‘vipassana lite’!
Regardless of light or heavy, the experience at the Brahma Vihara Arama was thought provoking, educational, stimulating, and certainly insightful, with teachings that were inspiring, challenging and fascinating. The teachings of Sayadaw U Tejaniya are all about knowing the mind and recognizing how the mind works, thinks, and operates.
Throughout the retreat we are told over and over again by Sayadaw that we are trying to understand the mind exactly as it is. We are observing to understand, not to achieve anything or make anything stop happening. We are simply trying to understand the mind as it is. We are trying to understand and recognize the defilements of craving, aversion, and illusion, in all their forms. They are all natural phenomena that we need to recognize and understand but that will always be present. Through vipassana meditation we can cultivate awareness and understanding of these cravings, aversions, and illusions as well as ourselves and our world. From awareness, insight arises and from insight, wisdom arises.
Did you have a similar experience on your vipassana retreat? Comment below to share your story!
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