Buddha taught Vipassana for free to all who cared to practise it 2,500 years ago. Today, the Alberta Vipassana Foundation is teaching this technique for free to all who are determined to give it a try, to see for themselves how it works and to weigh the benefits.
Vipassana in Pali means “insight” to see things as they really are and it has been described by S.N. Goenka as “an art of living.” It is a way of self-transformation through self-observation and self-reflection. Its unique quality is non-sectarian, non-religious and it must be taught entirely for free.
The first 10-day course scheduled in 2010 was held at Camp Kasota in Sylvan Lake, from April 26 to May 7. The course was taught by Goenka on audio and videodiscs. An assistant teacher was there to help students, by offering guidance and answering questions in the practice.
The camp is in a secluded natural environment on the bank of Sylvan Lake. Men and women were segregated and told to respect their boundary areas. Every four students were housed in a heated cabin with built-in bunk beds, quite enough space to sleep in.
In the official opening of the camp, we took vows to abide by the code of disciplines — to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, intoxicants and speaking falsely throughout the entire course. We had to observe Noble Silence — to abstain completely from communication with others, except teachers, whether vocally or physically by glances and gestures.
Food was vegetarian, but pretty decent in varieties and variations, with international flavours and including a dessert. All meals were served buffet style. There was no dinner, but a tea break at 5 p.m. The donations from previous students, who have completed a 10 day-course, funded the program. In fact, volunteers from that group managed the program and performed daily chores, such as cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, mopping floors, cooking and preparing meals.
The course program was a rigorous 10 continuous days of intensive meditation training. Each day began at 4:30 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. Every day was heavily scheduled, with three compulsory one-hour sessions and a two-hour discourse session.
On the evening we arrived, the practice of Anapana meditation was taught. It entails observing the natural breath coming in and out of the nostrils without regulating or changing the breath.
The following two days, we continued to observe our normal breathing as we learned to let our minds become calm, sharp and sensitive.
On Day 3, everyone had to work on normal breathing while paying close attention to any sensations in the small area between the nostrils and the upper lip.
Day 4 was Vipassana day, spent simply observing sensations throughout the body from the top of the head to the tips of the toes — the whole body. The goal was to understand the impermanent nature of these sensations while developing equanimity by learning not to react to them.
From Day 5 to Day 9, we were not allowed to open our eyes, arms or legs in all three, one-hour group meditation sessions. This was called The Sitting of Strong Determination. We continued to observe sensations, piercingly and penetratingly sweeping through each and every part of the whole body.
On Day 10, we learned loving kindness meditation to develop our noble qualities and share them with all beings. Noble silence was lifted after morning group sitting.
In essence, our cravings and aversions come from the experience of body sensations. Sensations arise when a sense object comes in contact with sense doors. People do not crave chocolate, but the decadent taste sensation that arises from eating it.
The teaching is to feel the sensation and yet not to relish it; to remain equanimous and detached from it. By mastering this, we come out of old habits that create bondages and misery for ourselves. It is a practice of letting go.
Thirty students ranging in age from 20 to 60-plus completed the 10-day course in May. It was inspiring yet encouraging that a good half of the students were young people. They felt that the course was challenging yet rewarding, too.
It was indeed a simple mental exercise that keeps the mind and body healthy and happy. In a troubled world, it’s important to observe our sensations with equanimity, and with an understanding of their impermanent nature, so we can at least alleviate our insatiable appetite for material abundance.
For course schedules for 2010 in Alberta from Alberta Vipassana Foundation, go to ab.ca.dhamma.org.[Edmonton Journal]