I just returned from a vipassana meditation course at dhamma sobhana meditation centre in Ödeshög, Sweden. My body and soul has been purified. But it took its toll from me. If I had know just how hard this would be, maybe I wouldn’t have gone. However, I am really glad I did.
I realize that this post will be far longer than your average toilet visit, which otherwise is my target time. I will divide the post into five parts so you can read them one at a time.
What can I say about this meditation course? I will start with the details, and then we can continue to my personal experiences.
For those of you who haven’t read the background, I have been away on a ten day meditation course corse att the Dhamma Sobhana meditation centre. Dhamma Sobhana means the beauty of truth, and the centre is located just outside Ödeshög in Sweden. The meditation technique that is taught here is called Vipassana. The length of the courses varies between 3 days and 45 days. However, anyone who wants to partake in any of the courses needs to start with the ten day course, from which I’ve just returned.
Dhamma Sobhana meditation centre
When we left Ödeshög, we drove the small road out to the meditation centre. After about 20 km we were met by one of those sign posts. Vipassana centre 4km. The last piece of the road was even narrower and finally we reached a farm behind which the centre was located. It consisted of a collection of red houses that are spread out inside a high wooden fence. Once a village school, it has also been a treatment home, course centre and hostel before it turned into a meditation centre by 2007.
Above the entrance you are greeted with a sign with the text Welcome. When I entered the door I was shown into a room where I could register and leave my mobile phone and other valuables. We soon realized that this room was the ladies dining room, while the men’s dining room was upstairs in the same house. On each side of the women’s dining room, was the meditation rooms. One was a bit bigger, for 80-100 persons if you squeezed a bit. The other one was a bit smaller and held maybe half of that.
On each side of the main building were two big houses with sleeping halls, one for the men and one for the women. I never entered the women’s house, but the men’s house gave me the feeling of a summer camp. I was given a room in the far corner of the house, in something that once must have been part of a five room apartment. Our room held three beds which were separated by a particleboard. This board gave a sense of privacy even though we lived on top of each other.
Besides those three main buildings there were a number of economy buildings scattered around the yard. Washing house, baracks for the server, carpentry and extra toilets. There were also a sewerage facility on the grounds, since there were no municipal water on the site.
In the surroundings around the buildings there was a big open yard where we could walk around during the days. There was also a walkway in the forest which was about 300 meters in length. It was lain with wood chops to keep the mud from your feet. A rope was tied throughout the center and through the forest. That rope showed the border between the men’s area and the women’s area.
What can I say about the shape of the centre? It wasn’t dirty, but it wasn’t freshly refurbished either. It had that summer camp feeling.
If we should get closer to the course, let’s start with the teacher. The education was held by a S N Goenka – and Burmese guy with indian heritage. This Goenka once was a business man who traveled the world and earned money. The more he worked the worse his migraine got. After a while he was treated with morphine on medical establishments all around the world. Nothing help him get better though. When he entered a Vipassana meditation course after a recommendation from a friend, the migraine left him and never got back. He embraced the technique and after that he taught Vipassana meditation for 45 years. In the year 2013 Goenka passed away, at the age of 89.
Before he died he was able to record his teachings on a cassette tape, which was now played for us. Yes, I say cassette tape since he himself referred to techniques from that era in his education. He talked about VHS recorders which made you realize that the information we listened to was quite old. This time, the playback was done from an iPad and even though the recordings were old the quality of the sound was great and the content didn’t feel old or dusty despite the references to the outdated technology. After a while we realized that the recordings were taken from one of Goenkas classes in another country. People were coughing and clearing their throats silently in the background all the time.
Every meditation class commenced by this Goenka’s teachings about the techniques you were focusing during the meditation in English. Then this was followed by a Swedish translation of the text. I must say that I was impressed by the translations. I am a bit sensitive to bad translations. (Yes, I know. My English is not really fluent. Talk about throwing bricks in a glass house.) During those ten days I didn’t react once that the wrong word had been chosen for the translation or that a sentence was wrongly constructed. I really praise the translators!
We also had two teachers, so called assistant teachers, inside the meditation hall. The meditation hall consisted of a room that was twice as wide as it was deep. On the floor in the middle of thee room some scotch tape separated the hall into two squares att approximately eight by eight meters. The left square was the men’s part of the room and the right one was for the women. On the male side, the male assistant teacher Anand was situated. By his side, in the female part of the room, his wife Kerrin was situated. Their job was to keep order in the room, tell us when to take a ten minute break and to stay in the room to answer any questions that we had regarding meditation or the technique that we had practiced during the day.
For those of you who, like I, enjoyed watching Fresh Prince in Bel Air during the late nineties i can tell you that our assistant teacher Anand looked like an Indian version of Carlton Banks.
I realize that I use the word servers quite a lot so maybe I should explain who they are.
A server is a person that has taken the course earlier and now returns to the meditation centre to help. It’s a type of voluntary work where you help the course participants by cooking, take care of the equipment and do all the stuff that needs to be done during the course. Those people are called servers.