This is a continuation of my story about when I attended one of the Dhamma Sobhana Courses in Vipassana Meditation. Are you thinking about joining one of the courses? Well you should! But before you even start to think about going to this course, you should be aware that you commit yourself to a couple of rules
First off, you are not allowed to speak. That’s right. During 9 days you are not allowed to utter a single word. Well, that’s not the entire truth. You are not allowed to speak to your co-meditators. If you get a problem with a snake bite or something there is a helper – a guide – that you can speak to at anytime to get help. Besides, you are allowed to ask questions to the teacher at certain times. You are allowed to talk a bit if you want to, but most of the time you are silent.
Beside this “noble silence” there are five base rules that you have to keep to.
This is a continuation of my story about the 10 day Vipassana course I took at Dhamma Sobhana in Ödeshög. Here is part 1.
- You are not allowed to kill anyone or anything. This means no slapping mosquitoes. And you shouldn’t pick flowers. The forests around the center was full of mosquitos, and I assure you. Those were the happiest mosquitos in the entire country. They were well fed and protected. A paradise for a mosquito.
- You are not allowed to steal. I hope this doesn’t include borrowing schampo.
- You are not allowed to partake in any sexual activities. Not even solo style.
- You are not allowed to lie.
- You are not allowed to intoxicate yourself. No Gin & Tonic for 10 days. Sad.
The first rule means that you are not allowed to eat meat. If you do, you have killed something indirectly, right? But at least the salad was OK to eat, apparently.
Every morning at 04:00 the gong sounded. Then it was time to get out of bed. Usually I gladly sleep to 9:00 or even 10:00 in the mornings. Honestly, I was a bit worried about this before going. To my surprise I had no trouble getting up in the mornings. I jumped out of the hard bed, put on my clothes and walked out to the wood chip paved course for a morning walk. Half way around the course I stopped to stretch my back for awhile. Then I walked back for the morning meditation that took place between 04:30 and 06:30.
At 06:30 a breakfast with porridge was served with raisins, cinnamon, milk and flaxseed. There was also an option of yoghurt and oats. With this we were served dark bread with butter, peanut butter, jam and so on. There were also a fruit bowl from where I usually picked half an orange. The home page states that there is no coffee during the courses. When we were there they provided instant coffee, since earlier course participants had experienced problems with headaches or migraine.
The meditation hall
After the breakfast we had a rest until 08:00 and then we proceeded with the second group meditation of the day. Everyone was expected to join up in the meditation hall. During those meditation sittings you were first given a short instruction. Then you sat down on a small pillow on the floor and tried to follow the instruction. Well, the things they asked you to do were not that difficult. The first day you were supposed to focus on breathing.
I had a hard time to find a comfortable position on the hard floor. Outside the door to the room there was a small bookshelf with more pillows, and as the course went on people picked more and more pillows from those shelves. You put pillows under your butt, between your legs, under your knees or wherever you were sore that particular day. At the end some of us had built intricate armchairs on our spots.
By the way, one of the mornings I was the first one entering the meditation hall. I took the time to count the pillows on the floor. I counted seven rows with six pillows in each that faced the longer wall. In front of us participants, with their bodies turned to the assistant teacher, sat the servers on seven different pillows. All in all we had 49 pillows and one spot for the teacher on the gentlemen side of the room. I suspect that it was the same amount on the ladies side. At a later moment, someone said that we were 80 people including the servers. Maybe I didn’t get the numbers right when I counted? Maybe there were only 6 rows of pillows?
Dhamma Sobhana Courses
Anyway, when the group meditation was over we got a short break again. After that we entered the hall and got further instructions about what we should do between 09:30 and 11:00. This meditation could also be done in the meditation hall, but you were also allowed to go to your room to sit, stand or lie on the bed and meditate. To avoid falling asleep and sleep the day away they recommended that you didn’t do any lying meditation for more than 5 minutes at a time.
At 11:00 the gong sounded again and it was time for lunch. I will write more about that in the next part…
The lunch ended at 13:00 and by that time we had two more one hour group meditations. One between 14:30-15:30 and one between 18:00-19:00. Between those hours you were supposed to meditate by yourself – in the hall or in your room.
Ah, that’s right. At 17:00 the gong sounded again and we had a fruit break with tea. An orange has never tasted that good. That was the only dinner that we received.
At 19:00 the studies were interrupted and we had a “discourse”. That was a recorded lecture about what we had gone through during the day, what we had felt and why. They managed to pick up all the sensation that you had felt during the day quite well. That made you realize that most of the people there had the same experiences. Those lectures were held in Swedish and lasted for 60 to 75 minutes. The course participants that didn’t speak Swedish were given a video lecture where this Goenka gave an English equivalent of the same lecture. The lectures mixed anecdotes from India with theology, regulations and meditation techniques. They were quite entertaining some times but some days they were quite dull. More about that later.
After the lecture we had a short meditation again in the hall but then we broke up and went to our rooms and slept.
At 21:30 all lights should be out, and by then we had been awake for 17 hours. 10 of those in meditation.
As previously stated the food was purely vegetarian. It was served in the dining room on a serving table. Most days they served rice with some goo (and I mean goo as something positive, except for one day when I mean goo as something negative). Some days they had changed the rice for oven roasted root-crops and that made me happy since I like that more than rice.
Along with the course they served vegetables that were nice and fresh, although in some strange combination at times. Green salad with stalk celery and pear, anyone? They also served hard bread and at times a small dessert. A dry cake or fruit salad and one day to everybody’s joy even chocolate balls.
You could tell that the food wasn’t made by professional chefs, but I still enjoyed the food. That’s quite strange considering how much it differed from my regular diet. I’m a fully fledged carnivore and I prefer a nice hamburger any day, but this was not a problem.
Even though we didn’t eat anything except two fruits after 11 o’clock, I only went to sleep hungry one of the nights. This proves that you don’t have to eat a lot all the time. The days when I had a bit too much for lunch I had a hard time focusing on the meditation. My stomach was too full of food. This is a knowledge that I will try to keep in mind.