Vipassana: A guide to the famous 10 day meditation course

16th Jun 2018


Photo of Vipassana: A guide to the famous 10 day meditation course by Vijaya Nair

Heading back in time to in 2016, I took up a one month teacher's training course in Yoga. With a past experience of working night shifts for approximately 8 years, I really needed to get back to the natural cycle of being able to sleep at night. I was working in a US project and my shift timings would start around 5 P.M. and go up to 4-5 A.M. Weekdays were fine, but I could never fall asleep in the night on weekends. The Yoga course helped me bring back my confidence and the natural cycle of being able to sleep in the night. However the meditation technique that was taught in the course, instructed to focus on an object while meditating. For example, visualizing a lotus temple before shutting your eyes and concentrating on the image to meditate. Sadly I could never follow it.

Over the years, I heard about the Vipassana technique and honestly there were mixed reviews about it. Some stated that the 10 day intensive course made them calmer and some regarded of it as a waste of their time and energy. So in 2018, I decided to go for a Vipassana course in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. I waited for almost a month for a confirmation email, but did not get through. Few months later, after quitting my travel guide job, I decided to take the Vipassana course again. I choose Bodhgaya, Bihar despite of having a major Vipassana center in Mumbai. Bodhgaya was one of the places that was on my travel bucket list for a long time.

The availability of the Vipassana course depends on the location. It is advisable that one plans in advance as per the course date and location accordingly. Locations such as Ladakh, Dharamsala get full. You can apply for the course online at When I applied for a course in Bodhgaya, I received a confirmation email in 3 hours. Sometimes, the confirmation may take up to 2 weeks. In my case, the course was beginning in about 5 days and the confirmation came in early.

Since it was unplanned and with bad luck booking a Tatkal ticket, I got into a general class compartment in Darbhanga Express from Mumbai to Varanasi Junction. The course start date was 16th June, 2018 and I had to reach the center by latest 5 p.m. It is advisable to reach by 2 p.m as the induction starts around that time. I decided to stay at Varanasi for 2 nights and then head to Bodhgaya. There are no buses that ply from Varanasi to Bodhgaya. Since my train was delayed at Varanasi Junction for 5 hours, I took a train from Mughal Sarai JN. to Gaya Junction. This train was also late and I ended up reaching Gaya Junction at 10 p.m.

Bihar is popular for being unsafe. But I was determined to take the course and took a risk of boarding an auto rickshaw to the center and reached the center at 11 p.m. I was lucky to reach there safely and would not recommend that highway to the center. I was lucky enough to reach safely. The guard was reluctant to open the gates as it was quite late. He checked for my name in the course list and after some hesitation. He somehow agreed and called on the volunteers and I was given permission to stay.

Next day, I had to fill a form, give my valuables to be kept in a locker and the 5 precepts were explained to me. The precepts are as follows:

1. One will observe Noble silence for 10 days

2. One will not engage in any sexual activities.

3. One will refrain from killing any beings

4. Dinner will not be provided for 10 days

5. No stealing absolutely

Photo of Vipassana: A guide to the famous 10 day meditation course 1/2 by Vijaya Nair

I was assigned an individual cell with an attached bathroom. The place was so peaceful and filled with greenery. Although it was a little hot in the summer month of June. There was days, where I would wake up sweating. The Vipassana technique is taught by late Acharya S.N. Goenka. The course is run by charity and donations solely. The timetable involves getting up at 4 A.M and the day ends at 9 P.M. Has 10-11 hours of meditation time and enough breaks allotted for food breaks and resting.

The first 2 days are really difficult getting accustomed to the timetable, silence and meditation. The food breaks are as follows:

Breakfast is served between 6.30 A.M to 7 P.M, Lunch served at 11 A.M to 12 P.M and evening snacks served between 5 A.M to 6 P.M. Major part of the meditation happens in the Dhamma hall (meditation hall) where men and women are seated separately. One can talk to the teachers or the volunteers in case of any difficulties understanding the technique or other problems.

Although it may seem difficult, the course is wonderful and seems fruitful after one finishes the 10 day course. A lot of people end up quitting midway. One definitely needs a strong determination to complete and surrender to the course. I remember I was so anxious on day 1 and day 2. All I could think of while meditating was Pizza! I was craving so badly for one. Sometimes, different songs would keep popping and playing in my head while I was trying hard to meditate. That's when I was starting to think, maybe I should quit.

I was determined to complete the course. The thoughts of quitting the course started to become stronger. But I tried to stay focused and I stayed. For the first 3 days, Ana Pana, a breathing technique is taught. Here one observes their breath and focuses their attention on the triangular area of the nose. Day 4, Vipassana is taught after the lunch break. One cannot leave the Dhamma meditation hall during this period and needs to park their asses for a solid 2 hours, during the Vipassana session.

Vipassana means inside. This technique teaches an individual to observe their bodily sensations and teaches that everything is impermanent. Everyday there is a disclosure video that has Acharya S.N. Goenka explains details related to Vipassana and relate them with stories. One needs to have faith in the technique and keep their doubts at bay for a while to have the technique work. Also observing the noble silence, one gets a chance for self observation and with my experience it helped me solve doubts and led to clarity.

The noble silence is broken on the 10th day and one can collect their valuables and mobile phones and can connect to their dear ones. Also on this day, all the students of both the sexes are allowed to interact. It was so overwhelming when I spoke after 10 days, I had goosebumps and such static currents run through my body for the first few hours when I started talking. It later lead to having a headache. Speaking to 10 of hundreds of students, sharing your experience and chit chatting.

Most people had a wonderful experience and were repeat students. Some found it utterly boring and thought being in the prison would have been a better choice. I personally could experience the changes within. Instead of getting agitated at small things, I started to accept things as they were "Everything is Impermanent". We simply boil yourselves in anger, hatred, ill will and animosity for others and yourself. What it does is, it multiplies itself into more misery. and the vicious cycle never ends.

The Vipassana course taught me to be accepting, attentive and most importantly not to react to situations. Deal with everything with equanimity and have love and compassion for all beings.

So next time, take off some time and take up a Vipassana course and feel the difference yourself.

Photo of Vipassana: A guide to the famous 10 day meditation course 2/2 by Vijaya Nair