Vipassana 10-Day Meditation Retreat Review

2 months ago* I did a 10-day meditation retreat, put on the by organization (they have centers all over the world, including one a few hours from me). This will be a long review since there is a lot to say!

They teach a specific type of meditation called “Vipassana Meditation”. First I’ll explain what the whole thing was like, and then let you know my opinions on it.

The Rules

There a few strict rules that you have to follow during the retreat:

    • “Noble Silence” for the entire 10 days – no communication of any kind, including verbal communication, non-verbal communication (gestures), physical contact, or eye contact. There are 2 times each day when you can ask an assistant teacher questions if necessary, but otherwise the entire retreat is completely void of communication. Since I was a bit late on the first day, I didn’t get to meet the other students ahead of time, and had no idea what anyone else looked like until the last day when we were allowed to talk again.
    • Complete celibacy (no sexual activity of any kind)
    • Can’t kill any animal (including insects like mosquitos)
    • Can’t lie (not too hard since you can’t talk)
    • Can’t have any intoxicants (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc)
    • Can’t have any reading or writing material
    • No physical exercise
    • No music
    • …and a few others

All the rules are to facilitate meditation, minimize distractions, and allow people to get as deep as possible with their introspection.

The Content Of The Retreat (What Happens)

You can read more about what you actually do on their website ( Basically each day there are 10 hours of meditation, and along with eating meals, showering, the evening “discourse” (a video of the teacher (S.N. Goenka) teaching about the meditation and his philosophies on life), and a couple breaks, the day is full. A side note on food: You only get breakfast and lunch, and then fruit and tea for dinner – but surprisingly it is enough, I suppose because the physical activity is so minimal).

The first 2 days you do nothing during meditation but concentrate on your breath. This is to relax and focus your mind and get yourself in tune with your body – you also discover how out of control you mind actually is, but you get better at focusing and controlling it. For the next 1.5 days you focus on the sensations in a certain part of your face – surprisingly, you start to feel a lot of sensations going on, since you’re so focused and in tune with yourself. The sensations are actually always there, but usually you just can’t feel them. Then for the rest of the retreat you take your now somewhat tamed and focused mind and focus it part by part throughout the rest of your body, with tweaks each day on how you do that.

The Theory

The main purpose of Vipassana Meditation is to undo your “conditioning”, and free yourself of all the things in your subconscious mind that are controlling the way you are, so that you can become your real unconditioned self. This is somewhat related to the Buddhist idea of enlightenment (you don’t get all the way there, or even close, during the 10 days, but apparently you make progress in that direction). They say that at your core, underneath all the conditioning, you’ll find only goodness, love, compassion, etc.

They say that your body and mind are very closely related, and the effects of everything that happens to you are stored in your body as some sort of tension, or some sensation, or something. For example, say you experience a painful rejection by an audience while doing an oral presentation when you are young. The effect of the rejection would be stored in your body somehow. From then on that affects you, and you feel nervous doing presentations. These stored conditionings that constantly affect you are called “Sankharas” (you learn a lot of new words, such as that one).

When you are meditating, and relaxed and in tune with your body, and equanimous (indifferent, just observing yourself objectively, feeling neither craving nor aversion to anything), the Sankharas start coming up to the surface. The idea is that when you just observe the physical manifestations of the Sankharas with equanimity, and they arise and pass away, the Sankharas get eradicated, along with their effects on you. (Before going on the retreat, I though that this meant I would start feeling various emotions, or having memories come into my mind, etc, but actually you only feel physical sensations).

You continue doing this until you are free of all your conditioning (takes a lot more than 10 days – it could take many lifetimes – but 10 days is supposed to be a good first step).

On the retreat you do cultivate some other good skills and attributes, such as equanimity, etc, but really the goal is to undo your conditioning.

My Experience

I most definitely did experience a lot of sensations throughout my body that I would not otherwise feel, from pain to tingling to pulsing to hot and cold spots to “uniform subtle vibrations” etc, and I worked hard and did my best to remain focused and equanimous the whole time. The sensations arose and passed away, and everything always does (among many other things, they constantly stress the “law of impermanence” – everything always changes and nothing is permanent, so it is pointless to ever get attached to anything).

Interesting But Not Really Relevant

I had a hard time getting to sleep at night, because I could not turn the sensations off, and they were very distracting and kept me up.

They say that what the sensations are that you are experiencing are irrelevant. What matters is that you simply remain aware of them and equanimous to them. Most of the sensations I experienced were the mundane types of sensations I described above. I did however have a couple unusual sensations. One was the sensation of tears running down my face. The tears felt 100% real, and when they first started I wiped my face but found that there actually were no tears. No sadness or other emotions were attached to them – I only felt the physical sensations and that’s all. For a few of the meditation sessions, I had “tears” streaming down my face for the full hour. Other times, I felt like I had a big gash in the middle of my forehead, and there were drops coming from it (blood?) and running down my nose. I often still felt the tears & gash during the week after the retreat ended (when I was not meditating); after that the sensations faded away. Very interesting, but as they say, meaningless, because the point is to just remain aware and equanimous as the various sensations arise and pass away.

The Positives

    • It was run VERY well – it could not possibly have been run any more smoothly.
    • The food was excellent.
    • The accommodations were quite nice.
    • Most of the discourses (videos) in the evening were excellent.
    • The retreats are free, and are financed exclusively by donations. They do not allow you to donate any money until after you have completed a retreat, and even then they do not put any pressure on you to give them anything.
    • I’m quite sure that the primary motivation of everyone running the retreat was love and compassion for others (which of course indirectly benefits themselves also) – to have exclusively volunteers putting in so much time and effort running such a smooth worldwide operation was very impressive. This, along with their apparent desire just to help others, is what impressed me most of all.

The Negatives

    • Although they say all over their website that they are not a religious organization and are not sectarian, and they repeat the same thing a few times during the retreat, the fact is that they really actually are quite Buddhist. Half way through I seriously considered leaving for that reason (and also because of the constant very strange chanting of the teacher in a strange language – “Is he invoking evil spirits?” “Is he subliminally messing with my mind”?). Upon my insistence, they bent the rules and let me read a translation of the chanting, so I decided to stay. There were many other religious aspects that troubled me also.
    • I think there may have been a bit of mild brainwashing going on, but I made sure to always keep “one eye open” and I don’t think I was affected. If you are going to do a retreat I encourage you to be aware of this.

The Major Negative

For me, the major negative was simply that I did not get any apparent results from the retreat. I feel the same as I did before the retreat, and I seem to act/react/think the same as before also in all the situations of my life. Therefore, unfortunately, I cannot say that the retreat was successful. Essentially, I am the same, and therefore I am disappointed.

In one of the discourses, the teacher (S.N. Goenka) explains that there are 3 ways to know that something is true. The first is that someone tells you that something is true (this is the least effective way). The second is that you figure out the truth yourself intellectually (this is the second most effective way). The third is that you directly experience something yourself and therefore know that it is true (this is the most effective way). I agree with that 100%.

Goenka constantly tells you not to accept something because someone else says so, including himself, but rather to believe things only if you experience them to be true, and he also constantly points out that by doing Vipassana Meditation, you are experiencing reality directly within the framework of your own body. This is true. But there is a big missing piece to the puzzle…

I have no direct experience that the fundamental underlying concept of the meditation is true: How do I know that the sensations I’m experiencing are Sankharas coming to the surface, and how do I know that I am eradicating them through this type of meditation? The only way I “know” this is true is because the teacher said so.

I suppose that this is why Goenka constantly tells us that the sensations are our Sankharas that are getting eradicated (we have no other way to know it), but he does not tell us that we are experiencing the sensations in our body (he doesn’t need to tell us that, because we’re directly experiencing them).

A Few More Positives (to end on a happy note)

I did learn the value of equanimity and living in the present moment. For example, I experienced the fact that a significant amount of suffering comes from resisting the present moment and feeling aversion to it – for the first few days, when I experienced pain in my legs/back from sitting for so long, I would be constantly wishing it would go away, always wondering when the meditation session would be over. And since it wouldn’t go away, and the session wasn’t over, it caused me a lot of mental anguish. After learning about equanimity, I would do my best to simply observe the pain objectively, without feeling aversion, just accepting it as it was in the present, and not thinking about the past or future, and even analyzing the pain with my mind to see exactly how it felt in different areas, what type of pain, at what point in my body it began fading away, etc – just doing as much as possible to accept it – and I found that that made it much more tolerable. The pain was still there, but my suffering was reduced.

Living in the present moment is easier said than done though, and when the pain got bad enough I couldn’t do it any more, but I did experience the value of being able to do so at least somewhat.

Buddhists say that craving and aversion are the cause of suffering, and they are also contrary to living in the present moment – for example craving is wishing for something in the future instead of accepting the present moment as it is. Somehow this doesn’t mean that you can’t set goals for the future etc – I don’t quite get how that all fits together.

It also takes determination and persistence to complete the retreat – it is not a walk in the park – so I suppose I built up some of those qualities in myself also.

I also gained some sort of control over my mind, so that is a benefit also.


So yes, I did benefit from the retreat, but I feel like they were all minimal improvements – I don’t feel like I actually eliminated any Sankharas and purified my mind or improved myself in any significant way which was the main point.

The “old students” (who had done these retreats before, and many of whom had been doing vipassana for years) for the most part did not seem particularly impressive to me – generally not the type of people I want to become like from what I could tell.

I’m glad I went, because it was an interesting experience and there were many great aspects to the retreat, but since the ultimate goal (improving myself in some way) was not achieved, I was, overall, disappointed because I got very little out of it.

Do I recommend it? Yes, IF you have 10 days to blow with nothing better to do, and IF you have read this entire review and have a realistic idea what to expect.  You may also want to check out this book by one of S.N. Goenka’s students.  I read it before going on the retreat and it helped me understand the theory and put the retreat into context.

There is a lot more elaboration possible, but I’ll wait to expand until I get questions about specific things.

I welcome your comments and questions. Please type them in below!

*Not actually 2 months ago from the date at the top of this page (Sept 15, 2012).  I did the retreat in 2008 which is when I wrote this review.  At that time I had posted this on a different blog. Since I thought the readers of this blog might find it interesting, I’ve moved it over to here. I’ve had the commenting feature for this post turned off & on over the years (mostly off) which is why the comment dates below are a bit sporadic. Comments are now on again, so feel free to leave any.


  1. Charlotte says

    Did you have a meditation practice before you went? After?

    I am thinking about attending a retreat with this group in Illinois. I meditate now, and find it very helpful. But I have never meditated for more than half an hour at a time and struggle with maintaining a daily practice. Also, I find it much easier to read books about meditation and to talk about it than to actually do it. I am considering the 10 day retreat in hopes that it will help me be better about meditating with greater regularity.

    You mentioned that you felt that this experience did not largely change you. In the book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chodron talks about how you can still be the same old person even after many years of putting work into meditation and this this is okay. She says wanting ourselves to be someone different than who we are is a form of aggression towards the self. When I first read this I was disappointed–isn’t the whole point to be a different person??? But then I realized that she is right about the importance of accepting all of ourselves and having a loving attitude towards ourselves.

    Are you familiar with Byron Katie? She is not a meditation person, but her work is a great compliment to meditation practice in my opinion. There are some youtube videos of her that give you an idea of what she is about. Her first book is called Loving What Is and I highly recommend it. You can download worksheets from her website that explain how to do the work:



    • Justin says

      Hi Charlotte,

      Thanks for your comments. No, I did not practice meditation before attending the retreat. I’d tried it a few times, but usually I’d just get bored / frustrated and give up on it pretty quickly.

      You mentioned you’re hoping the retreat will help you to be better at meditating with more regularity… I expect it likely will help with that.

      Since the retreat I haven’t been meditating much, although I do very occasionally when feel the urge; it’s nice to know that now I have the ability and experience to do so properly when I choose to

      I can see the value of just accepting who you are, but I find it is easier said than done. I’ll check for that book @ the library.

      I hadn’t heard of Byron Katie, but her website looks interesting at first glance – I’ll check it out in more detail. Thanks again for your thoughts,


  2. walkthepath says

    “Hard it is to train the mind, which goes where it likes and does what it wants. But a trained mind brings health and happiness. The wise can direct their thoughts, subtle and elusive, wherever they choose: a trained mind brings health and happiness.” – the Buddha

    Dear Justin,

    I believe the main point of meditating is to be happier and more harmonious. S.N. Goenka mentions in one of the evening discourses that the only yardstick for measuring the progress of Vipassana meditation is equanimity. I’m happy to read that you feel your equanimity has improved. This is a wonderful benefit. A great start.

    From my own experience I have learned that the real difference comes when you sit daily. I have sat at least 2 hours per day for about 4 months now. It is giving me so much benefit. I am blown away by it. I have been able to handle really tough situations without being angry and spreading my negativity to others. Instead I have helped others and also myself. Please visit my blog, there I have written much about the benefits of my practice:

    Don’t worry about eradicating sankharas. Let practice come before theory. If you meditate daily you will begin to understand how it works. I believe our minds are working against us by trying to think of reasons not to meditate. It could be anything from doing something different like watching TV or finding faults with the theory. Meditation is hard, especially in the beginning. But you will see, it gets easier as we walk further on the path.

    May you be happy and well,

  3. Observer says

    Wow. Brainwashing? Keep one eye open? This was clearly a wasted effort for you. Your conditioning is deep. Mistrust is the first layer you may need to peel off.

    Your statements are quite confusing. On one hand you agree that one should believe only when one experiences and then you sound unhappy that you got “fuzzy” answers! Perhaps the answers were fuzzy because you are supposed to solve the problem yourself to attain the EUREKA moment.

    The very concept of meditation was born in India (Hinduism) some five to six thousand years ago and later was adopted by Buddhism – a derivative of Hinduism. Hence the teachings are enmeshed in the culture. Chants are inextricably linked in the process. Please do not it diminish as brainwashing. And no one should apologize for that.

    I would strongly recommend educating yourself on these cultures or avoid these methods. Else it will be wasted effort as it is quite evident by your writings.

    People misinterpreting goodwill for brainwashing should clearly avoid such retreats. It is not for all.

    • Mackerel says

      I’ve been practicing meditation for nearly twenty years now. About 4 years ago, I did a Goenka retreat in Japan, and I understand what he means when he writes “mild brainwashing”. At my retreat, the workers there would play tapes of Goenka chanting everywhere they went, and furthermore, they would tell the new practitioners that Goenka’s “way” was the only way to happiness and liberation, that there was no other.

      That, my friend, is a strong sign of a personality cult.

      That being said, I think they are harmless, and I don’t get the impression that all Goenka centers are like this.

      I think it should be noted, however, that there are other, non-Goenka vipassana centers that can be readily found. They do not come with the chanting, or the talk of being the only, superior path.

      • KatKat says

        Hey Mackerel,

        You wrote that there are other, non-Goenka vipassana centers? I’m having trouble finding those.. Any suggestions?

        • Mackerel says

          Well, vipassana as by Goenka is based on Burmese “programs”. My wife and I lived in northern Thailand for a while, and -many- of the temples out there have vipassana programs. And they don’t even know who Goenka is.

          Here is an example:

      • Claire says

        Very late to reply on this I know (just stumbled upon the thread reading about vipassana) but I went on retreats and the teacher repeatedly stressed that there were other techniques that also worked and you could use them instead if you so preferred. At no point did he stress that his technique was the only possible way. He only requested that you did not practice visapnna and another technique simultaneously as he said it would hinder your progress.

        • Mackerel says

          It would make sense of course that the experience would depend on the location to which one goes. I’m also a bit curious if there is more than one set of Goenka videos to be shown at the retreats. In the series we watched, Goenka several times said that other religions and spiritual paths are flawed, but that he “does not condemn them”. This message was repeated by the teachers at the retreat. “Other” of course means non-vipassana.

      • Mo says

        That is simply not true. I have completed a 10-day course as well and while I do remember full-well the emphasis placed on “while you are here, try to use this technique and only this technique”, they also clearly say there are a lot of ways to meditate and a lot of positive benefits to be had from it. They just want you to do this practice during your stay and I can understand why – you didn’t book some general retreat, but a very specific one.

        • Mackerel says

          I’m sorry – what’s not true? That people are reporting experiences that seem to differ based on location and perhaps time? It sounds like you yourself had a good experience. I’m glad to hear that. I hope you came away with things to improve your daily life.

    • Lee says

      I just read through some of these replies and I was quite disappointed that so many that comment sound quite judgmental toward Justin and his experience. That sounds contrary to the goal of the program. I have not tried this as yet, but I know a few who have. They found it extremely beneficial and say that it has been life changing, yet I still see them struggling and suffering as they often complain to me and I often see them in tears. I appreciate Justin’s honesty and willingness to share with others.
      Thanks Justin!

    • Al says

      It’s a cult. A Mild cult, but still a cult. Subtle in it’s disparagement of other approaches but disparaging non the less.

      Like the author of the article says – nothing too great about the long term users. Just bland, spiritual masturbation that satisfies the early learner.

      Going silent for ten days useful. However ten silent days doing something more useful would be more…. useful.

      • says

        “Going silent for ten days useful. However, ten silent days doing something more useful would be more…. useful.”

        As only a Westerner would reply…

        Keep going. Practice practice practice.

        much metta :-)

  4. jay says

    Justin, Thanks for the time you have taken to write this very honest review. I am at uni and have a mid year break coming up and thought a 10 daycourse would be great. Just started Meditation and loving it. Trying to be able to focus more and gain greater value of my and all of our short time here as the days flash by. Cheers

  5. kartik says

    I will be going for my first retreat this July 1st. I am trying to bring down my expectation that this course will change my life. Maybe my experience will also turn out to be like yours! I hope not.

    you said,”I think there may have been a bit of mild brainwashing going on, but I made sure to always keep “one eye open” and I don’t think I was affected. If you are going to do a retreat I encourage you to be aware of this.”

    Obviously, your suspicions did not allow you to give a fair trial to this retreat and it is hardly surprising that you did not benefit. I read about this Vipassana from Sarah MacDonald’s Holy Cow. She too did not follow the instructions. She imagined her toes talking to her knees and stuff like that. It was interesting to read, but in the ultimate analysis, she cheated herself.

    Prisoners, esp. murderers reformed themselves after this course. Drug addicts, who were unable to wean away from cocaine, finally got control over their cravings. The key difference was that, luckily for them, they were not as critical/suspicious as you. They allowed themselves to be “brainwashed”, but it worked for them. After all, there was no coercion to join this program in the first place.

  6. Amanda says

    I just finished this retreat myself and was feeling very light afterward and continue to..I wonder if you are keeping up the practice or maybe you weren’t suffering from much psychosomatic stress to begin with?

    I feel like I do somewhat understand the physics behind the process so I’ll share the theory briefly – Goenka tells you in the beginning about how all the particles that make up atoms are continually changing-disappearing and being regenerated 10^22 times a second. Accepting the blackhole theory of matter, this revelation makes perfect sense as does the meditation technique. Blackholes grow by absorbing positive energy particles and evaporate by absorbing negative energy particles. i don’t mean positive and negative as in charge but direction in time. negative energy particles appear to be regular, postive, particles moving backward in time. postive and negative particles are continually being created in pairs and innihalting each other. this happens 10^35 times a second. in nature, at the event horizon of a blackhole, when this particle pair creation occurs, they negative energy particle can cross the event horizon causing the blackhole to evaporate a little while the positive energy particle can either escape, radiating away or fall into the black hole too but the smaller a blackhole is, the more likely the positive energy particle will radiate away. It seems to me that the sankharas are the patterns of negative energy that our minds hold in suspension as waveforms at the event horizon of the atom’s blackholes by observing the sensation, the wave-particle phenomenon is in effect and the negative wave pattern has no choice but to express its particle nature and fall into the blackhole causing it to evaporate a little. This is also why a calm and equonimous mind is also essential. you wouldn’t want to put any new patterns in effect, let nature do the work. That’s how I rationalized it working anyways and so far i think the technique is working for me.

  7. VKW says

    I wonder how you did not benefit from vipassana? May be you were not totally focused on learning the method and busy analysing the process which is the job of our egoisitc mind. to learn vipassana you have to completly surrender to the process It is a process of purification. After 10 days course you autometically know your thoughts and emotions. you dont have to struggle to control your thoughts or emotions. by clearing the negative energies generated by your negative thoughts, reactions, negative emotions you become pure mentally and physically.

    You can do vipassan to reach to the Nirvana level or you can do it to become a better person in life. with practice you are a new person and always succeed in whatever you do.

    Just 10 day course done properly with full dedication can change you life in many ways.

    May be you need to learn to surrender.


  8. Billy says

    This is completely random. I also did the retreat, at the end of last year. I totally see where you’re coming from. What I find impossible to accept is your conclusion. Though there is no direct evidence that sankhara’s are being eliminated or do indeed have any link to the sensations it is my belief that purely by applying logic it can be seen how this equanimity could really reprogram the mind. If we really persist with the meditation, sincerely, it would very gradually become natural for our mind not to react with aversion or longing to the sensations. The most important thing is I think the slow pace of the change, hence why you have seen no direct evidence of change, you didn’t give it a chance. I think most sensible people can at least see the purpose of the meditation and assume that if they put in the considerable effort than results would be seen.
    The core aim of the meditation in my understanding is to cease suffering by reprogramming the mind to remain naturally equanimous in the face of pleasant and unpleasant sensations.
    Accomplishing this would surely cease an individuals suffering. Accepting life as it is, expecting no more and no less, it’s beautifully simple in theory and heartbreakingly difficult in execution but surely possible!
    Sorry if that made no sense. It was part addressed to you, a faceless blogger and part aimed at myself, reminding myself of the merit I saw in the meditation.

  9. Blair says

    Thanks for your review. It is really helpful to me, as I have just “escaped” from a Visappanna retreat. I lasted until 5:00pm on day 4. This is my first day back at home (So happy to be here!) but now I have to deal with telling everyone that I “failed”… that I escaped from this “mental rehab.” I as sitting on the couch this morning, wondering if I’d made a mistake. That’s when I decided to look online to see how others felt and found your blog. It has been very helpful.

    I struggled, the entire time that I was there, because I desperately missed my partner. I am used to calling him in the middle of the day, just to hear his voice and find out how he is doing. I’m a worrier, in the real world. With nothing to do but meditate and think all day, I felt like every feeling I was having, every thought, every fear were multiplied 10x or maybe even 100x! So my mind went in all kinds of crazy directions, concocting all kinds of scenarios — both negative and positive. This just drove me crazy! I think if I had been permitted to call my partner once a day, or even once every two days, I might have been able to survive the duration of the retreat. (I was doing pretty well with maintaining the meditation position for longer durations)

    Another thing that may have influenced my stay was that I initially shared a room with two others. One left on the first full day after becoming very ill and having to go to the hospital (part of me was jealous and thought how lucky he was). At the end of the first full day, my remaining roommate walked out of the first evening group meditation session. Then immediately following the next morning’s 4:00 gong, he packed his things and left. I watched him as he walked away from the building, in dim morning light. I was so full of emotion when that happened! I wanted to cry. I wanted to run an join him. I “connected” with him more than anyone else during the few hours we were allowed to meet and greet on arrival day. I felt like his presence there was helping me, and now it was gone. I was left alone in a room for 3, with two empty beds. The manager offered to move me into a new room so that I was not constantly faced with these empty beds and “bad vibes,” but I declined. As it turned out, I’m glad I did because I needed the extra space to breathe and pace back and forth during multiple future anxiety attacks! All I could think about — other than a few very strange random thoughts — was my partner and how I could escape. I even thought, as I slipped a little in the shower, that maybe I should let myself slip and fall and maybe break a wrist or something so that I could get out!!

    Although the “staff” were very nice — as nice as you can be with limited interaction I had a strange feeling about the Teacher. He always had such a stern look on his face, it was very intimidating. Whenever we spoke, he became very gentle and understanding but I wasn’t able to feel that this was real. I approached him at 5:00pm, immediately after the first 2 hour introduction to the Vipassanna meditation session on day 4. During that session, I wasn’t able to sit still at all. Against instruction, I was moving my legs all over the place, scratching my face, etc., etc. Yet, when I told him I wanted to leave he told me that I was doing so well and I sat very well through that session. Was he really watching me? If so, he would see how badly I followed instructions! Seemed to me that he was BS-ing me so that I would stay. But maybe I’m just to much of a skeptic.

    This retreat was located in fairly peaceful setting, except for a main highway up on the mountain that was off in the distance, but close enough to see and close enough to hear the whining of the busses and large trucks as they drove down the hill. Every time I heard that sound — which was all day — I thought of how they were heading in the direction of home and it made me “crave” home even more. Funny enough, when I did “escape” I was on one of those busses and I listened to it whine as we descended the hill over the retreat. I smiled with relief.

    (I wish I could write as well as you because I feel like I’ve just been blurting out thoughts, randomly. My apologies for that.)

    • Aberstwyth says

      This was too intense an experience for you; you probably should have tried a much briefer type of course–a regular hour on a certain morning or evening, just to “dip your toes,” so to speak. It’s clear from your reaction that you never seriously intended to really follow through; you just “wished” something would “happen” without you having to do the work. It’s natural to miss loved ones, but your attachment to your partner sounds unhealthy; a secure relationship does not require that much “wondering” and “checking in.”

  10. Damon says

    I just realized that this post is kind of old. I found it while looking up this place because a friend ( who has gone before) and I are going this January. I wanted to know more than what she told me and found this. While reading it you say how it didn’t help you because you feel the same, then you go into how it help some what in different areas. Do you think your expectations of it were too high, and that’s why you feel like even though it helped you a little it should have been a bigger impact? Have you gone again since this blog?

  11. Atul says

    I completed the course 2 years back and found it immensely beneficial in all ways possible. They are not promoting any religion, god or anything, …. just asking you to believe your personal experiences and see things as they are.

    it is challenging, difficult and makes you wanna run away sometimes, but facing the truth was never easy anyways.

    lastly, faith is everything. you must do any program, course or training with utmost faith to get any results. Any intellectual peron would be skeptical and inquisitive, but faith above all is a necessity.

    God bless you all.
    Atul Bhansali
    Bangalore, India

  12. Ben says

    I understand why some people find the experience to be unsatisfactory or even unpleasent. The new student(from my experience) thinks that older students (Sat more courses) will display some special qaulities but they are just people working on themselves.

    Some old students become “believers” and that can sometimes lead to a dogmatic slightly extreme aprouch but most are just doing this because it makes them happy.

    On most courses a few new students will find the course underwhelming sometimes one or two might quit half way through. That is to be accepted because it is not going to suit everyone.The emphasis on reincarnation and the chanting can agitate some people.
    If people change through spiritual or psychological methods then it is not about changing into a new better version of themselves an iddea that they will be able to better accept and feel accepted by others.

    What changes us for the better is the acceptance that we are what we are at this moment and surrendering to that is all that we need to do,its not about improving how we think of ourselves because how we think of ourselves is the problem, its not real its a dream constantly monitering what we like or dislike whats right and wrong and always with this idea in your head of a me that lives in seperation.
    Vippasana is not the only way, it may in some ways be hampered by its cultural refrences.
    The whole course is geared to one thing only, teaching this technique, and the organisation relies on the fact that for the majority of people it has a positive affect and they give a donation.

    It has grown rapidly and apart from a few postings from people who didn’t”enjoy” it there has never been a scandel or any instance of people being harmed by it ever reported.

    I don’t have any interest in the dogma of vippasana but the method is a great help

  13. marce says

    I recently completed a 10 day retreat in Indonesia. It was a very, very difficult experience. I really wish I would’ve read this article before attending the retreat. I went in with such an open heart that I was overwhelmed by the religious and philosophical jargon that the discourses contained. Although we were given a few minutes to ask the teacher questions, it was highly discouraged to ask any philosophical questions. Thus, the environment of silence and one way communication (meaning the student was only taking in information and not allowed to question any of it with the communicator) was a perfect setup for brainwashing. If taking up the subject of what is of humanity before and after life is not religious, then I don’t know what is. A religion, a set of beliefs by which one lives by, is clearly on Goenka’s agenda.
    While I am grateful to have had a space to learn the technique, I think my experience would have been that much greater if Goenka’s would keep his teachings to only the meditation technique, without the sugar.
    Further, It was a constant battle to trust in the technique when Goenka was busy saying how this form of meditation was the one and only way to true salvation. I am very scared when I hear someone say they are the owner of the truth,very scared and skeptic. I didn’t go to this retreat to hear about religious perspectives, I attended it to learn to meditate.
    I hope this article helps others enter the retreat with one eye open, as you said.

    • Justin says

      Hi Marce,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like many of your impressions of the retreat were similar to some of mine :)

      • says

        I live in Edmonton, AB Canada and have heard about this 10-day course through a documentary called Dhamma brothers where they teach this technique to prison inmates. I was very much intrigued as I, being a non-baptized Sikh, have recognized some similarities in the philosophy of Buddhism as compared to that of Sikhism. In terms of the meditation technique, I myself will not be able to chant the name of the Wondrous Enlightener as taught in my religion for chanting anything other than what they teach you is forbidden apparently and I have a hard time with this. But ultimately, I have chosen to commit myself fully into this program without any attachment to the technique or teachings. Any method that may lead you to rid yourself from the cycle of rebirth must truly be attempted. Many people are skeptical and dissatisfied with some of the philosophies that are obviously a part of this meditation technique, seeing it as brainwashing or a prideful claim of the only way. We must not let these things affect our search for ultimate truth. In all honesty, a 10-day course and strict code of conduct is such a babystep towards what our ancestors were capable of. Meditation is not only a way to clear your minds in order to become more efficient in life, but it is in fact a way to gain superior intuition, cure yourself of all forms of sickness, and reach a higher truth. WJKK WJKF

        • ray says

          Hi Sunny
          i would be intrested in your after thoughts on the course, i appreciatae youe equanamity on the subject matter of the course, and your overall ideas on the core teaching and goals of meditation. BTW , never was familier with the term ‘The Wondrous Enlightener”! this is awesome!!

      • Paul Nelson says

        And mine! Thanks Justin and everyone who’s posted here. I’m still processing my thoughts about it 3 days after leaving on the 5th day.

  14. says

    Wow. I had no idea Vipassana retreats were so infused with religion. I’m especially referring to Marce’s comment (and of course, your mention of it in the article). I have often thought of attending a Vipassana retreat at some point in my life, and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not that this post turned me off to it.

    I’ve meditated for much of my life, and have learned meditation techniques from a variety of sources including my father (who beat cancer through Chan meditation), various yoga teachers, and, most recently, the Art of Living Foundation, which I highly recommend.

    Under “Theory,” you talk about conditioning. Check out Morty Lefkoe and two of his courses – Natural Confidence (, and a course whose name he recently changed from “Occurring” to “The Lefkoe Freedom Course: Master Your Mind (LFC).”

    I took both this year and learned that it’s not only through meditation that you can overcome beliefs and conditionings. And religion – even spirituality – does not need to be a part of it.

    These two courses have resulted in some of the most powerful changes in my life, and I would venture to say that their results were more significant than years of meditation and yoga.

    • Justin says

      In my opinion the religious aspect doesn’t need to be a big deal as long as one is aware of it in advance and is mentally prepared. That’s quite the testimonial for Morty Lefkoe’s courses. I’ll definitely check them out, and maybe give them a try.

  15. Kelsey says

    On the subject of anxiety attacks, I have OCD and suffer from some form of anxious, negative thought virtually every day. I’ve grown a thick skin, but I worry that doing this retreat will amplify my anxiety from being alone for that long of a period. I do want to do this to overcome fear of being alone with my thoughts and hopefully to gain a clearer mind, however. Do you think a retreat like this would be just the thing I need or somewhat of a shock?

    • Justin says

      Hi Kelsey, I wish I could give you an answer that would help, but the truth is that I have no idea. Having not experienced anxiety attacks myself, I expect that your guess on whether the retreat might be worthwhile would be more valuable than my own guess. If you do decide to do a retreat, I hope you’ll come back and let us know how it went.

  16. Stiljan Kozarja says

    I attended a 10 retreat in Turkey on 7 april 2013 and here is my experience :
    Food: delicious and every one enjoyed it.
    Center condition : more than good, it was a holiday hotel :) and the only thing that was missing in every body room was a jacuzzi :).
    Dogmas or religion : before going there i had heard that there will be some religious dogmas or things like this, but now that i did it my self everything becomed clear, that there the only thing wich is being told is how one should practice it, now if learning the exercise is called dogma,cult,religion or whatever :) .
    Difficulty : yes it is difficult, but that is why i went there, i new from before going there that it was going to be something like that from the disccusion groups in internet.
    Asking the teacher : one should understand that you should not be talking for 10 days, so if there is no pratic question about your actual exercise is better not to do so, anyway there were questions like that and were replied.
    Vegeterian food : normally there were times for me there that use to feel very but very very nervous and i use to tell my self that one hour more and i will leave :) and some times i use to think about barbeques that i was going to eat after ending the retreat, but i traveled by bus, and in the way back home i had a small hamburger and went back ti sleep in the bus, when i woked up after 2 hours i feelt the bad mouth smeell wich i had forgoten from some days now, and from that moment i decided that i can leave better with no meat ( this is personal, no one told me to live like vegeterian )
    Donation or payments : it is free but donations are accepted, and me personally did not give any donation and there wasnt any moment to feel bad for doing so, because donation were accepted some where in corner and somehow you dont have any situation to push you to pay, and even in the end there was not any ego there, because no one camed out in the end and to tell that i did all this, so it was si interesting how much they served and even got in contact with anyone to take any merits.
    Serioz : if one has not been for him or her self , can not judge, but my own experience was much better than i expected, and i strongly suggest it to every one.
    S N Goenka speech : he tells the exercise and the benefits in diferent ways, no sugar speeches, but yes some lovely stories ( but by the time you are there yes you feel sometime like its to much , but it is not because of the sugar speech, because it happend to me even when meditating with out hearing anyone and a part of my mind was telling me ruuuun ruuuun:) and another part was blaming everyone with out reason even my self for why i was there, but there were moments that i use to feel very compasionate, mind knows to play a lot of tricks )
    Metta : it was interesting when i heard it for the first time there, if i remember well it was the last day,i thought it wasnt any thing very special there, but i feel so good doing it now.
    Overall: I wish to have a Vipassana Dhamma centre in my country, and i suggest it to my family, friends, and every one, and even you who are reading this if you havent been yet.

  17. hem says

    I have been offered an invite to do their 10 day course in Bangalore (Headquarters??) from May 16 .

    Unfortunately, it clashes with a lot of work commitments. Good thing is, my work supervisor has done this long back and he was raving about it. So maybe he’ll grant me leave.

    I’m 28 yo and not really sure what to expect and whether i can go ahead with it. Until now, I have never completed anything similar like this that i ventured into. Maybe the time is now.

    Will come back and let you know, in case i do go.


  18. surabhi says

    Hi, I am considering doing the 10 day course in the month of June.
    However, I have not been able to find anywhere the follow up that would be required after the course.
    Could someone pls guide me a little?

    • Justin says

      What sort of “follow up” do you have in mind? I’m not aware of anything that is required after the retreat is finished.

      • ray says

        I think there are shorter 3 day courses that are offered for older students, as well as being able to go and do some service work at centres as well

  19. Britt says

    I’m interested in attending a 10-day course in Washington state. I’ve done zero meditating and have had little interest in it, however 3 people in my life (from very different relations) have completed the course and suggested I try to attend. Do you think this would be too ambitious for someone with such little mental prep?

    • Justin says

      No, I don’t think it’s too ambitious. I’d done very little meditating myself before the retreat (certainly not enough to help prepare for it). I’d say just say be prepared for it to be difficult :) It’s not a walk in the park, but I think most people could do it without any advance practice.

  20. josefina says

    my first 10 day vipassana retreat was last year (may 2012) I went again this year (may 2013) I really liked it, and will try to go every year. for me the hardest thing was the sitting.but besides the technique, the dicourses , food, etc what I liked the most, was the feeling of being disconected from the outside world being with myself, loved that feeling I worked in a big company, have a lot of friends and family (my house is always full) so that is a well deserved brake! came back fresh and renew!

  21. ashley says

    Hi Justin,
    I don’t know where to start. a few months ago my sister held a “family meeting” at my house in hopes of fixing a generational family problem of emotional abuse, but emotional abuse never happened.To start, my sister is a massage therapist. She completed a course and got certified years ago through a seventh day Adventist school and that’s also when I started to notice a change in her personality. She couldn’t take a joke anymore and it seemed like the stick kept lodging itself further and further up my sisters ass, for real. She also went to Portugal to build a church and was gone for a few months, when she came back, again it was the stick up the butt thing. The only way I could make sense out of her changed attitude was the religion she was attatching herself to. Seventh day advenist. Recently she held the meeting as I said ,and it really came out of the blue to me. at that moment I was fully aware that there was a problem. prior to that I just went about my life thinking nothing of her personality changes. I thought it was something normal that would go away, The problem is that I think she has gotten a bit out of control and I just never realized how far she’d fallen. but I saw it clearly that nights of the meeting, she claimed we are all emotionally abusive to eachother (my mom, brother, stepdad, and myself and everyone else in our family). Remember she believed it was a generational thing;and she was taking a stand once and for all to stop our “secretive and manipulative behavior.” once and for all! I’m finally taking a stand! these are the phrases she kept repeating. she also said that we as a family needed to make a pact to never harm one another. she said we need to aknowlege the behavior, she also said stuff like this: your logic stems from your anger, you need to choose your words, your battles wisely, time is wasting, compromise is love, i will change every problem and it lies with you and moms gossiping, you need to start believing in me and showing your love as I have done to you, dysfunctional and manipulative behavior, OMG and there is so much more. who talks like this!!?? I mean, I am completely baffled by my sister and I don’t know why she is standing up for something that never happened. I called her a cult leader because I felt she had brainwashed my24 year old brother with her teachings. she’s 30 btw…all of a sudden when they started working together (they both practice massage) it seemed he would say the same phrases and became angry and mean towards my mom and I. all in all, its been a couple months that I have been aware of her feelings and trying to figure her out. so the other day I sent her a text message because I am tired of her extremely selfish way of thinking. I told her to get off the me train and that she had made belief view that became her truth. I told her that no one else lives her truth, that I never experienced that and nor did she of my mother. I told her that she took my vulnerable brother in a vulnerable time (apparantely he had depression) as do most of us at some time in our lives, instead of helping him through his depression she took him and turned him into a bitter person who blamed mom for everything. my sister took advantage of my brothers trust in her and she used his emotions to manipulate him into believing her lie therefore creating a soldier in her attempt to get back at my mom for what she felt my mom had done to her. My brother told me he no longer feels like her though. he sorta is breaking away from her and having his own thoughts and realizing that he didn’t have it too bad. well, I told her all of that in my text to her the other day and she got pissed and called my brother screaming at him to tell me that he still believed he was abused. if that’s not crazy and cult like I don’t know what is. I guess my question is that with someone like my sister, will this benefit her or just make her worse?? Are there anything in these vipassanna teachings that can be cult like or dangerous.? I’m scared for her mental state and am looking for any kind of answers as to how dangerous or beneficial this vipassanna technique is. she is going to the one in twenty-nine palms California for ten days. the thing is, she doesn’t remember the good things in her life that is a problem because she had so many. we had a great mother and come from a good family. she talks about herself like she is the messiah and has only good intentions when I have many situations with her that would state the contrary. she accepts no responsibility for the state of our immediate family right now and blames all of this bickering on the fact that we simply don’t understand her and if we knew her side, then we would. is this normal behavior from someone “holy?” sorry its so long its pretty hard to sum her up. any answer would be helpful

    • Justin says

      My goodness that’s quite the story! It’s difficult for me to speculate about what effect a meditation retreat might have on someone. I can only say that for me it didn’t have any lasting effect at all that I’m aware of. And I would guess (just a guess) that it’s rare that this type of meditation has a negative effect on people. It sounds like both you & your sister want to make your family a happier place, so if that’s true at least your goals are aligned… hope everything turns out well!

  22. Lucy says

    I just came back from 5.5 days on this retreat and I think your write up would be useful to many thinking of going.
    I did not google the retreat before going as I wanted to enter with an open mind. However, I knew all I wanted was guidance on a meditation technique and I did not want anything reinforcing any believe or guru or dogma…you get my point. Based on the website, that is what I thought I would get. This is what Goenka says on his first discourse, however from discourse two on, he gets more and more into their doctrine. He also contradicts himself, from what he says on day one to both “guidance” provided and actions in the retreat ( e.g. On not being ritual based on blind faith: there are plenty of rituals and they never tell you why they are necessary: e.g.” you must repeat after me ‘ I want the teachers to teach me Vispassanna’, in order to begin”, teachers must leave first, etc; Saying there is nothing wrong with other paths but putting them down coyly throughout the discourses, and saying that this is the only one that digs deep into the misery …or something to that effect). I found the chants distracting, annoying, disconcerting and unhelpful. Also everything is so Goenka centered! Is this a cult? No, I would say no. Is this a sect? Yes I would say is a sect of Buddhism and Goenka is their “Guru”, even if their site and fans say otherwise.
    Anyway, if you are into following someone/doctrine, give it a try. If you are not, stay away.
    My meditations were great in the first days but worsen as he got more into the doctrine and philosophy stuff. I don’t believe in many things he said and I was not about to waste any more of my days listening to discourses I don’t care for. “May all beings be happy”? Definitely!, we should not harm any being? Yes! But more than that it became well, proselytizing, whether Goenka fans want to accept it or not. I only needed to meditate.
    The silence is helpful as it is disconnecting with the world. However, you can do that in other silence retreats and do your meditation without having to subject yourself to the whole “misery and salvation” shpeal!
    P.S. To all of you ardent and aggressive fans of Goenka posting here, you should not be so judgmental and aggressive towards those relating their experience and opinions. If you can’t have compassion and understanding for others then you clearly missed the part about loving and kindness towards others!

    • Justin says

      Hi Lucy, thanks for sharing. On the topic of learning to meditate without the religious aspects, I noticed a few days ago that Sam Harris has a book coming out next year called “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion”, which I’m now eagerly awaiting.

    • Mylene says

      I attended a 10-day Vipassana session 6 months ago. I had several questions during my stay but I realized that you have to be there for the entire session to understand the big picture. After a few days it seemed a bit too esoteric for me, but I understood equanimity toward the end of the stay and it made a big difference in my life. My mood is now a lot more stable and I am more patient with life. I am not into religion at all and I practice meditation to get in touch with my inner self.

  23. Lanae says

    I went to a 10 day sitting in May 0f 2013… I attended a course in Twenty-nine palms.
    The facuility was nice and accomadating. Day 0 was okay even though i really was not in the mood to explain my reasons for being their… The women that did talk were sounding so englighten about the whole experience and were trying to explain to some of us that were new students what would happen. I really was not impressed because of my state of mind. Full of chatter and my body was full of worldly toxins from food and drugs…. meaning dinking and cigarretes and life in general. My second day I was ready to run also
    But I did not. I had vivd dreams and some scary visions or not.. I know my mind was really messing with me. Eventualy I settled down. I started to put in the work of coming to the temple instead of staying in my room. At the end of the course i felt some relief. when we were able to talk it was chatter evrywhere..The younger ladies were talking alot … the older ladies were not. I did say a few things but decided to keep my opinoins to myself,,, due to the fact I was around women I did not know.. we exchanged numbers…… the discourse there were some ideas I did not agree on. Yes there werer times I did open 1 eye just to see what was going on. The teachers were kind and helpful…. The management too. I had alot of issues when I came and left with a lot of issues…. out of all of this I came hoem confused , annoyed and really did not know how to deal with my up setting life I had left behind for 10- days. I work as an certified Nurse assistant…. I am constantly dealing not only with patients problems but co-workers too with serious treacherous issues. The medical field is not an easy field to work in … I have been in it since 2002….. I just turned 51…. I am going to another retreat This time I will be there for 27 days. I am doing my first 10 day serving. then my 3 days will be to help get the place ready for the next siiiting… which I will sit 10 days … I will write about my experinces after..
    Regradless of the teachings we all have free will and thought… I am only for meditation. and peace….. considering I was a solider for 10 years I am not easy swayed on others thoughts…..

  24. Lanae says

    Just wanted to add about Cheri Huber…..
    I read her books alot…
    she talks alot about Self-Hate…Belief Systems and Assumptions
    Projection and Identities and a whole lot more……

    Everthing we encounter can help us see who we are, if we know how to look. our clearest mirrors, and most difficult challenges, are often people- Cheri Huber

    If you have time to breathe you have time to meditate.

  25. John Benerba says

    Great article, thanks for sharing your experience. I will add two points and they are merely my opinions:

    1. Vipassana is a great tool for mastering the physical body. In my experience, the body can get in the way of reaching deep spiritual places during your own meditations. Getting the body out of the way can be very useful.

    2. Vipassana is not the be all end all. In my opinion, it does not connect you with your higher self or transport you to glorious places. However, I like the techniques which from time to time help me quite the mind/body so that I can focus on my own journey. I did not need the full 10 days (as in I would have liked for it it to move more quickly), but I can easily see how most people need 10 and some people need even more than that to practice.

    It’s a great tool. I would suggest not to treat it as anything more than that and you may find value for yourself. At the very least, unplugging for 10 days is a huge benefit. You realize how powerful you really are when you shut down the technology for 10 days.

  26. Agustin Mauro says

    Hi there!
    I read your review and i really liked it. You kind of revealed a little the mistery about what is going on during the course. Because the videos only talk about the benefits, and the schedule only gives you a slight hint on the practice. What it really estranged me from doing the course were the replies of the people. What it’s going on?! It’s that thing about electrons a atoms really said in the video? Does Goenka really tries to mix black hole theory with meditation? Does he say we have to surrender to purification?! I hope no, but if that’s the case I think there ir muuch more religion going on..

    I get very curious about the unusual sensation stuff. I actually don’t know anything about psychology, but once i heard that sensory deprivation can lead to strange sensations. (i didn’t read all the comments, sorry if i’m repeating). I don’t think a vipassana course has a lot of that but, lets be honest, your’re doing nothing but checking your body for hours. Social isolation can be also a factor for mind overthinking. Again, i’m not a psychologist but I expect that hopefully this may explain why you felt those tears.



    • Justin says

      Yes as I remember during one of the discourses he related some of the experiences of meditation to quantum mechanics. Although the relationship between the two isn’t provable, it was just a small part of one discourse so not a big deal IMO.

      Thanks for the article on sensory deprivation – I read / skimmed it. Hard to say if that played a role in my own experience or not.

  27. Sue says

    Your review and the comments are very interesting. I am thinking about attending one of these retreats. From what I’m reading here, it sounds like a persons expectations and desires have alot to do with how they experience the retreat. It is understandable that a person could feel brainwashed if they go to the retreat expecting to have philosophical dialgoue, intellectual arguments, and a personal transformation.
    Perhaps these retreats are more of an opportunity to hear the teachers ideas, just to listen to them, and to use the time to think about them, and to meditate. Rather than going through a complete change of life,the retreat is offering a person a very rich experience.
    It does sound demanding. I hope to try one of these retreats, maybe over the summer.

  28. Mak says

    Most of us would like to get quick fixes, be it something related to personal improvement or some other wants. There is no such thing as a quick fix especially when it comes to matters of the mind. Even the Western way of dealing with the mind – psychotherapy takes years to bring a person back to his/her senses, if at all. Of course, it is OK to be skeptical, but then again we have to put effort and good will to be conscious of “The Divine”.

    “Think Good, do Good as what you do unto others you do unto yourself”

  29. Eve says

    I did my first ten-day Goenka Vipassana course four months ago and found it tough but very powerful. I have continued to practice for an hour a day, sometimes more. I came to it after some experience of other types of meditation, but more significantly I have practiced taiji for many years and have also done a considerable amount of psychotherapy – it is in fact my profession. This meant that on the one hand I have a lot of experience of noticing physical sensations (through taiji) and that also I had no difficulty with Goenka’s samskara theory – to me it simply means that emotional experiences, particularly the repeating kind that correspond to psychological patterns (a possible translation of samskaras?), also tend to be embedded in the body as tensions, which over time eventually lead to pain and disease. For example anxiety tends to create tension in the solar plexus, and thus a tendency to anxiety can lead to chronic stomach problems. I found the combination of equanimity and attention to bodily sensation, to the extent I could manage it, was a very powerful tool for undoing these processes. As you learn to hold that state – to put it slightly differently, a state of mental/physical relaxation together with focussed awareness – you can simply watch these stuck physical problems unwinding and releasing. You have to stop yourself interfering and trying to change things, just watch it happen. It’s real work, and sometimes I find it hard to stay with, but it has been quite dramatically changing my body, including old bad postural habits, as well as my mind. I really experience the interaction of the two more powerfully than with any other technique. If you can only achieve equanimity this is naturally reflected in a more optimal physical state. Attention to problem areas is guiding the natural correcting process. Body and psyche are inseparable.

    As far as the “brainwashing” issue is concerned, I think (the now late) Goenka was really doing his best not to impose Buddhism, but since it was his whole culture it was hard for him to totally put himself outside it. And it is always a difficult balance to give credit to other approaches while enthusiastically conveying the value of your own. Also, as he says at some point in one of the discourses, if you don’t have some degree of trust in the technique you’re learning you’ll never really be able to put yourself into it sufficiently to get the benefit of it, but at the same time you have to put it to the test and make up your own mind about it. This is inevitably somewhat paradoxical.

    As for the teachers and other students on the courses, they are all grappling with different things, going through different phases, learning, sometimes getting over-excited and evangelical, sometimes feeling disappointed. Better to just get on with your own practice. The silence and lack of time for arguments is frustrating but wise.

    • says

      Dear Justin
      I appreciate some of you queries, such as the samskara argument. Initially I also have asked myself the same question : How does Mr. Goenka know that through sensing I get rid of old samskaras ? On what does he base this conjecture? I think the last commentator explains it very well in her post (Eve). She says: Goenka’s samskara theory – to me it simply means that emotional experiences, particularly the repeating kind that correspond to psychological patterns (a possible translation of samskaras?), also tend to be embedded in the body as tensions, which over time eventually lead to pain and disease.
      In my experience, Vipassana releases those tensions, without any doubt. Those stress releases then rebalance the brain, i.e. the way I feel and think. Have a look at HeartMath Solution and what they say about the importance of heart-mind coherence.
      For me the goal of Vipassana is yes, equilibrium and cohesion, i.e.thinking and feeling in a contextual, cohesive and connected way. The opposite of which is a fragmented, black/white/good/bad kind of thinking with all the problems that this poses.
      In stress and especially trauma ordeals, the mind fragments and splits. This is the way we survive unbearable ordeals and high tension. Vipassana can help put the pieces of the puzzle together again, but not without daily effort and a good teacher which the Goenka retreat centres I have visited provide for. Also provided are clear and safe boundaries, which can be seen as strict but in my opinion are absolutely essential for such in-depth work. Everything is geared towards creating comfort and safety and if that wasn’t already enough its free, if you don’t have the money to give a donation. This enables many people, young and old alike with little income to find some equilibrium in an otherwise scary, economically and socially uncertain world. I think that the fact the courses are always filled, at most centres that I know of, speaks for itself. I can only applaude.
      Back to samskaras: my 10 day retreat helped me undo layers of stress like the skinning of an onion. My mind was much calmer and cleaer, and I could see things more the way they are, rather then the way I imagine them to be. In answer to any remaining questions re. the effect of the mind on the body, you might find this
      you tube clip useful: Neurobiology of Trauma – Dr. David Lisak. Also check this: Quantum theory demonstrates observation affects reality.
      With kind regards

    • Gabriela says

      I will be going for my first retreat this November 12th.
      I would like to know how much I should give them for the 10 days meditation. I know that is not a fix amount but please can you tell me around how much should be ok.
      Thanks for your help

  30. William says

    The interesting thing about Vipassana and these retreats is that Vipassana is not a technique at all, it merely means insight. So to be used properly it must be Vipassana meditation, the technique is anapanasati (although they do try to hide that this is the actual technique on the 10 day retreat). That all being said, not speaking a lie is implemented into the business (while you don’t pay up front they do ask you donate what you feel the teaching is worth) so as to calm any suspicions that the only people who ARE talking are all lying. Now don’t get me wrong, I got a lot out of the 30 hours I stayed with the program, however I also had my instructor telling me that being a Reiki master may send me to the mental hospital and the Transcendental Meditation I practice could send me to the ER if coupled with Vipassana (of which I had already done 20+ hours of the actual meditation technique they are claiming is Vipassana). Aside from the clear smell of bullshit, I was appaled they were trying to scare me from practicing anything other than a style of meditation that doesn’t exist outside of the basic Buddhist anapanasati. Yes, anapanasati is immensely helpful and teaches on to be more present in their every day life, however the Vipassana retreats are made by a self confessed business man (not a monk) and impose a limit past body scanning (still in the first tetrad of the meditation and not realizing the full potential). I don’t know about your place, but we were limited to being inside the dhamma hall, or our bunks and frowned upon for wanting to do a walking meditation (exercise 2 on the Vipassana Dhura Meditation Society’s website My final prognosis is these aren’t even knowledgeable people that are “teaching” the Vipassana “technique,” while actively trying to scare you out of any other practice you may have already undertaken. I have also included a link to where to find all four tetrads of the anapanasati meditation. If I am mistaken and the teaching does extend past #3 of the first tetrad, please give an example. My room mate filled me in on what the daily was for the 5 days that I missed after calling them on their BS and leaving the program, from what I got it is merely a body scan added to the awareness of breathing. (anapanasati in it’s complete form Kudos for beating your head against the wall with the meditation for a full 100 hours, I will shoot for the full time (not at an actual center) I just need to not have a bomb dropped on me then a pat on the ass to go back to sitting still in silent meditation/thought for 10 hours a day.

  31. Eve says

    Anapana-sati means mindfulness of breathing, which is what Goenka teaches during the first days of the ten-day retreat. He does in fact refer to it as anapana practice. The rest of the time he teaches mindfulness of bodily sensations, which is one way of translating vedana-sati, the second of the four “foundations of mindfulness” techniques of Vipassana meditation, the other being mindfuness of feelings. (There seems to be variation in interpretation of the four foundation practices, and it can be argued that sensations, like breathing, come under “mindfulness of body (kaya-sati)”, the first object of mindfulness, rather than under “vedana”.) I don’t know whether the Goenka school teaches the further two practices (mindfulness of mental states and of mental contents) on the longer courses, but as Goenka discovered one can get an enormous amount of mileage just focussing on sensation. I’m sorry if the assistant teachers on your course spoke negatively of your other practices, but whatever technique one is to learn, any good teacher will say firmly that one must not mix it with other techniques as one learns. Each system has its rationale and it is easy to fall between two stools. These practices are not without their dangers, as Justin discovered, and mixing them together creates more possibilities of getting into a mess.

  32. beth says

    Did you donate anything? I’m doing a 10-day myself in a couple of months and am really not sure what to donate! How much did you or others give?

    • Justin says

      Hi Beth, what I did was try to estimate how much it would cost them to have one person there for the 10 days and donated that amount, although don’t I remember now how much I’d estimated. I do remember people at the end of my retreat asking the staff for suggestions on how much to donate, but the staff didn’t provide answers. Although that was slightly frustrating, I liked the fact that there was no pressure or expectations for anyone to donate anything at all.

      Hope you enjoy your retreat!

  33. Richard says

    Dear Justin

    I see you did your retreat in 2008. I wonder if you still feel the same now about the whole experience?

    A few things strike me which I would like to comment on:
    I don’t thinks it’s wise to expect to change by doing a 10-day course. Change is slow and requires constant effort. If you say “I am the same, and therefore I am disappointed”, you obviously want(ed) to change, but there are no magic potions.

    I also think it’s a bad idea to judge the old students for not being “particularly impressive”. How can you expect to know anything about them from exchanging a few words on the last day. To have any valid opinion about them, you would need to know first-hand how they were before and after their Vipassana courses. A certain person you were judging might, for all you know, have been a complete mess before their first course, and now, although they appear average or unimpressive to you, the changes they have undergone could be vast for all you know. Chances are they are making progress, albeit not enough to impress you at first glance. Why aspire to be like someone else, why not aspire to be a better version of yourself and to certain qualities? I am an old student (off for my second course tomorrow) and I don’t want to impress or have anyone look to aspire to become like me. I, like everyone, have my unique set of problems which I’m working on, and just because, through practice and hard work, I am able to sit for an hour at a time, that doesn’t mean anything special, other than that I have been practicing and continue to do so. I must admit, most of us are guilty of projecting aversion and judging others. I remember my first day when the person who sat on front of me (obviously an old student, turns out a six-timer) sat solid as a rock while the rest of us new students were fidgeting away, and I thought something along the lines of “look at this guy, sure thinks he’s a big deal”, but a day or two later I turned my thinking around and having him sit in front of me, his effort became inspirational. Another thing I remember is the aversion I felt to certain people, but a big weight was lifted when I realized that when I am in a group of new people, I always seemed to pick someone on whom to project my aversion, and realizing this I understood that this certain person did not give me his aversion, but rather that it was mine, all mine, and from that moment on (around day 6) the burden of that aversion was lifted, which left me free to concentrate on myself, which, at the end of the day, is the whole point.

    My goal is not to become “enlightened”, at least not in this lifetime, but rather, my goal is simply to remain on the path and day by day develop equanimity and awareness, to increasingly live in more peace with myself and the world, and then to die in peace, at least more peacefully than if I hadn’t taken on this commitment to work on myself. If enlightenment is to come at all, I’m sure it won’t be in this lifetime, and that doesn’t actually concern me at all. What does concern me is to gain a little more peace by the end of each day, and that will lead me to where it leads me.

    Reading your positives and negatives it seems like you were (are?) in two minds. If you “did learn the value of equanimity and living in the present moment” then that alone is a good start, but again, without continued effort, you are being somewhat unfair on the technique and to yourself to expect too much. As you obviously did gain some benefit, why not take another course then commit to say six months of twice-daily practice and then review any possible benefits and what changes you might have undergone?

    All the best!


    • Justin says

      Hi Rich, thanks for sharing your thoughts & experience. I’ll respond to what I think are your main points below:

      “I wonder if you still feel the same now about the whole experience?”
      - Yes I do feel the same about it.

      “I don’t thinks it’s wise to expect to change by doing a 10-day course.”
      - I think it’s true that my expectations were too high. And I agree with you that one shouldn’t expect the 10 days to be transformational but should consider them to be just the first small step down a very long path.

      “A certain person you were judging might, for all you know, have been a complete mess before their first course, and now, although they appear average or unimpressive to you, the changes they have undergone could be vast for all you know.”
      - I think that’s a good point and could have been true.

      “Why aspire to be like someone else, why not aspire to be a better version of yourself and to certain qualities?”
      - I’d say that I actually was aspiring to be a better version of myself and to certain qualities, and not aspiring to be like someone else. But I think I was also able to recognize even based on a short meeting the extent to which other people had some of the qualities that I was aspiring to (Example: how confident are they when meeting new people?). I think that while meditation has benefits (or so people say) it’s not a cure-all, and the sorts of changes I was looking for could have been better accomplished through other methods.

      “…a day or two later I turned my thinking around and having him sit in front of me, his effort became inspirational”
      - That’s cool.

      “I understood that this certain person did not give me his aversion, but rather that it was mine, all mine, and from that moment on (around day 6) the burden of that aversion was lifted”
      - So is that.

      “As you obviously did gain some benefit, why not take another course then commit to say six months of twice-daily practice and then review any possible benefits and what changes you might have undergone”
      - In the years since I did my 10 day retreat, there were at least one period (maybe two) where I did twice-daily meditation (not vipassana) for months at a time. And recently I’ve started again but just doing once-daily meditation. I haven’t detect any benefits from any meditation that I’ve done outside of the 10 day retreat… yet. I may do another meditation retreat at some point (not necessarily vipassana) but not for a while. In the nearer future I have a couple other types of personal growth “retreats” planned.

      Glad you found your 10 day retreat worthwhile, and I’ll be interested to read your impressions of your second time around if you report back here.

  34. Bronwyn says

    My dear friend did the retreat and has done 30 hour ones as well. He is adament that it is complete brainwashing and that he was fully concious of this the whole time, though not many are. Or that many go into it knowing that and then get “sucked” into the brainwashing.
    Is the meditation sitting up or laying down?
    I am strongly attracted to this experience, and am curious of other places similar that one may know of so I can compare and come up with an informative decision.
    Thank you for your review.

    • Justin says

      If your friend thought it was brainwashing the whole time, why did he continue doing more retreats? Also, did your friend not tell you if the meditation was sitting up or lying down? (it’s sitting up)

  35. Ravi Kumar says


    I have attended the course from 15th Oct, 2014 to 25th Oct, 2014 At Vipasana Dharamkot, H.P. India

    First 3 days normal – due to anapana session
    4th day – Vipasana day – terrible
    5th day – meditation practice – terrible
    6th day – Ganga, Jamuna Saraswathi day – terrible
    7th day – Bhangavastha -terrible
    5,6,7 day are called as adhistana one should have strong determination.
    8th day – quite annoyed with the noises and sounds, with terrible weakness
    9th day – a bright belief that one day is left to go
    10th day – we can speak.
    11th day – go home.

    • Justin says

      Lol… I’m guessing that you won’t do another Vipassana retreat? Did you find that there were any benefits at all? What made it terrible?

  36. Mike says

    Thanks Justin,

    This blog is exactly what I was looking to read prior to my retreat. Could I ask you which location you attended? I’m headed to the one in Montebello, Quebec (Canada) and from their website apparently there is the option of having a chair rather than sit crossed legged. Did you see any of that? I’m also curious to learn more details of the sleeping quarters you had? (Shared rooms etc)

    Thanks !

    • Justin says

      Hi Mike, I attended the one near Toronto – They’ve significantly upgraded the location since I was there (new buildings, etc).

      I think they had the option to sit on a chair for people who actually couldn’t sit cross-legged, but am not sure if I’m remembering correctly.

      I shared a room with one other man (who quit half way through so I never got to actually “meet” him or see what he looked like). There was a curtain down the middle of the room so that we’d have a bit of privacy & not distract each other. There were 2 bathrooms in our bunk building which were shared by all the men in our building, so each person had a scheduled time in the morning and evening to use the a bathroom/shower. The place may be very different now that they’ve renovated it.

  37. Mark says

    Hi Justin,

    A really good article, thanks.

    I managed only two days and could not wait to leave. I wished I had read your blog before I attended. The Goenka chanting seemed bizarre and I was also turned off immediately when I was told that the Vipassana way was the only way.

    I contracted a bout of flu before I arrived and this meant I was spluttering in the meditation hall which was a disturbance to everyone, but which also allowed me a swift and grateful exit when I asked to leave. It also meant that I could not meditate using the technique chosen by Goenka as he insists that you focus on the air movements in your nostrils. Attenders please note – If you have a sinus problem, you will not be able to mediate as Goenka instructs you to.

  38. Jomon k Chacko says

    Hi Justin I want to attend a vipasana meditation on this month.Iam going there with many expectations.your articles make me a re-thinking. Even then I have booked for it expecting positive results.shall inform you the results even if it is positive or not.

    • JustObserver says

      Its great. Don’t go with expectations of results. Go with an attitude to learn a new technique, and to test it out with an open mind.
      See my reply below: there is no chanting- its all ‘song’ in hindi.

  39. JustObserver says

    I don’t know what is brainwashing, so I will not comment on that. But I will say this (as a native speaker of hindi):
    The chanting in not religious- There are two minor religious rituals- 3 sentences on day 1, and 3 on day 4.

    Then there is one partially religious- depending on how you see it-
    I humbly submit to the enlightenment/enlightened soul(s), I humbly submit to nature’s positive force, i humbly submit to the group.

    Rest of it is not religious!!! :-) And its not a mysterious language- its hindi.
    Most of it is just songs along the lines of:

    People talk too much, do nothing. People talk about doing the right thing, but they fail to do it. Sometimes people don’t know.
    Nature’s positive force (Dhamma) always protects you, Dhamma is beneficial.
    Nobody can get over their suffering by talking. Nobody can get over their suffering by praying. You can only get over your suffering by understanding them. You can only understand by thinking about them.
    so on and so forth.

    I understand your reservations fully. But you might be using the word subliminal in a wrong way. It means an input that our conscious mind ignores but unconscious mind perceives. But this requires for the input to be in some way understandable by us. Since you don’t understand the language at all, that was clearly not the case. Granted- the tone of chanting could be it, if it is a tone that is already associated with you in some way, then that would raise concerns about subliminal “messing”. Go to youtube and bring up the song, search for “Dhamma Vani”, and please let us know if that is the case. If no, then let us know any there were any inputs that were given to you which you think were with the deliberate attempt to:
    1) Hide they were giving them.
    2) Were associated with something you already know and cannot in the moment, consciously identify.
    If you fail, then you would have learnt to use subliminal in the right way!

  40. JustObserver says

    And last but not the least- in case there was an impression the video lectures “venerate” a certain person- it didn’t come out right. If I remember correctly, there were multiple occasions where the instructor clearly makes fun of ‘Buddha’ as a single person. I think the exact term was, ‘throw him aside” or something. And another- “He doesn’t have a monopoly on liberation”.
    Point being, the only thing that’s taught is the practice. Nobody is being venerated. And you have a chance to try out the practice and see if you feel it affects you in the moment. I think it would be harsh to expect benefits out of it 10 days in, when it was clearly mentioned that there would be none.
    If there would, then it would be magic, or better put- miracle. And that’s left for religions. The practice here is like Yoga, 10 days are not enough for a perceptible difference.

  41. Bill G. says

    Thanks for this posting and your ‘enlightening’ straightforward/honest appraisal of your retreat experience. I found your information and many of the posted commentary both interesting and useful. I am attending a 10 day retreat at the SoCal Twenty Nine Palms site in a couple of days, my first extended retreat experience. I’m sure it will be challenging and hopefully useful in deepening my current meditation practice. I have read some of Goneka and have some knowledge of the ‘path’ of Buddhism, which is what has peaked my interest in learning the insight technique – I’ll post back here after I’ve returned, and hopefully not via the men in white coats bringing me home ;)
    Best Regards / Bill

      • Bill g says

        Completed the 10-day course this past May; all in all it was a very ‘satisfying’ and worthwhile experience; perhaps one of the most difficult voluntary undertakings in my life but at the same time I saw direct ‘results’ (if one dare use that term!) during the training process. Based on my experience it seems to me that it would be nearly impossible for one to complete these 10 days and not come away with the clear realization that yes, there IS something to this meditation experience. My mind has never been ‘clearer’ and more ‘focused’ than during this program, I was frankly pretty amazed at the what transpired for me. It was quite interesting coming back home and working on a daily sitting practice….it took me several weeks to finally be able to be ‘content’ in sitting, I really struggled for quite a while. I guess the Buddhists would call the issue ‘attachment’, I was ‘expecting’ to ‘feel’ the same after sitting at home as I did during the 10 day course – took me a while to realize that was not the point, and not likely to happen as 1-2 hours a day of sitting simply is not even close to the ‘immersion’ that occurred at the retreat. This was a real learning experience. Finally, I want to add that the Goenka program was conducted extremely well, it was all 100% above board and tho I was a bit wary at first of the use of recorded video for the instructions and evening discourses, I quickly experienced how effective this process in fact was and also recognized the value of this in keeping continunity of the teaching process over time and at various facilities.

  42. Simon says

    I will be going to my first 10 days vipassana retreat in mid May. I have been meditating on a daily basis for 4 months now. More importantly, I have been practicing the vipassana practice (mindfulness and observing the mind from waking up to sleeping) daily.

    In terms of meditation, I have only been focusing on the breathing meditation. In my waking moment, I have been focusing on mindfulness and being aware of my thoughts, which is vipassana practice outside of the sitting meditation.

    I can tell you that it works. I have experienced extreme soothing sensations of the head when my mind is very still for a stretch of time. One time was at Costco. I suddenly felt extremely mindful and everything was very vivid.

    Buddha’s teaching is 100% backed by all the neuro research about how the mind works. Vipassana meditation (during sitting) and practice (which is during the waking moments) helps to decouple the narrative focus of your mind from the experiential focus.

    It is the narrative focus that slips our mind from experiential focus into daydreaming, movie playing in the head, negative thinking, and etc. Our narrative focus creates the storytelling, distorting our perceptions and consciousness. Our narrative focus creates the conceptual “I” that is our ego.

    The path to liberation from suffering or an egoic mind that is always distorting our reality through storytelling in our mind is through vipassana practice, faith, wisdom, and morality.

    Read any neuro research results and you will find the truth of Buddha’s teaching in the published studies. Buddha did not teach any religion. He simply taught how the mind works and how his insight meditation (vipassana meditation) and other pathways can help liberate the mind from suffering (or delusion of the true reality).

  43. Michael C says

    I have enrolled for a vipassana course in May but after reading this blog I do not think I will be confirming my place.

    Having dipped my toe into Buddhism I have found it a bleak practice which reveals a “truth” I’d rather not see. That only our attachment causes our suffering and so if you don’t want to suffer, you should not become attached to anything. To me, attachment means caring/investment/concern, so have I missed something or is Buddhism teaches one not to care?

    • Justin says

      Good question. Ideas like being unattached while still caring, or not “craving” anything to be different while still making plans for a different future, aren’t concepts that I’ve been able to grasp. Somehow, I think both sides of the dichotomy/paradox are supposed to be true, but I don’t understand how. Maybe a seasoned Buddhist would be better able to comment.

      • Monso says

        This “being unattached while still caring” is very Zen, and one of the best ways to approach a project, in my humble opinion. Or imagine doing something with full attention and intention on good results, but not actually “caring” what the end results are. You do of course care, but you don’t feed “caring” any of your attention, which then allows more for the task at hand. Of course we actually do this a lot, whether or not we realize it. This is the “zone” that for example artists and athletes talk about. The opposite of doing this would be being so concerned with results that it creates debilitating anxiety.

        More specifically to the OP, this idea of attachment meaning not caring is a common mistake in Buddhism that even long-term Buddhists can be guilty of. Make no mistake however that caring, not to mention compassion, is key to Buddhism. Part of the key to understanding can be found in the idea of accepting change – for better or for worse. Love life, and take your role in it. Help life where you can, make and execute your plans, but don’t attach yourself so much to results. This does not mean you don’t care, but it does mean you are not locked on, gripping to outcomes. Life will be life, with or without your plans. It has always been this way. You will experience life, and life will experience you. Life may even experience itself through you, if you want to get weird.

        Furthermore, you are and will continue to be a feeling person. The idea of eliminating suffering does not mean you are eliminating emotion. You will be happy, you will experience sorrow. However, the way in which you experience these things changes. The way you perceive these things changes. Once you understand how much of life is illusion and how much is “real”, and once you see and accept, or cease (if you can and choose), your roles in the illusions of our life, the more your perception also of concepts such as desire and attachment will change and grow.

  44. Georgia says

    For what it’s worth, I just completed my second ten day Vipassana course. The first one was five years ago, and I did not derive much benefit from that one. Why you ask? Because I was obviously not ready for it. And because I ignored Goenka’s suggestion (not instruction) to sit twice a day, once I left the centre. However – I did not blame S.N.Goenka or his teachers for my failings. The failure to glean more from the teachings rested entirely in my own lap.

    The second course was every bit as difficult as the first – although the accommodations, situation, teachers and everything else was of a far higher standard. This I attribute to the fact that my first course was in Africa, where the people are less affluent than in first world countries. No matter, actually. Irrelevant.

    Fact of the matter is that I believe I was ready for the training this time. And this time I have managed to sit for an hour in the morning and an hour at night. Note that these sittings are not brilliantly executed. I battle, still, to focus my attention on the task at hand. My thoughts still scatter like frightened chickens in all directions. No matter. I am making progress, however slow.

    There is too much to wade through to find exact quotes to respond to in the thread above … may I just say how important it is to make sure, when you embark on any life-changing seminar, course or training, that you are totally honest in your application. I was not ‘in a good space’ mentally when I did my first course, and the teacher and manager, being aware of my isssues, were attentive enough to check on my wellbeing. This second time, I had the expected ‘breakdown’ on the second day, and again on the fourth. But the teacher saw me through it.

    My final words are these … when something doesn’t fit, or suit, it isn’t rational to blame the item. When you shop for clothing, you don’t condemn every shirt you don’t like, or that doesn’t fit just right, do you? In the same way you oughtn’t blame or badmouth a form of meditation training if you find it isn’t working for you. And Vipassana training can never be accused of being a cultish practice. It is universal – if you experienced any coercion toward one religion or another that is the fault of the staff at the time – not the intention of S.N Goenka. If you listen to his discourses with open ears and heart you will understand that this is based on pure science.

    Blessings, and Bhavatu sabba mangalam ( which is ‘may all beings be happy’ in Pali – nt an evil incantation! )

  45. BrianC says

    You mentioned that you dont feel changes and didn’t really get much out of it. Thats because they left out the intent to integrate. The Presence Process (second/revised edition) by Michael Brown is amazing at this and much easier. If you had done it first, you would have integrated tons of sadkhana (that’s not what I call them).

    And Goenka’s theory is incorrect. The felt resonances in your body are passed down from your parents. Then, events in the first seven years of life trigger those felt resonances and emotions contained within them. This “installs” them, in a sense. After you grow up, you’re developed enough to integrate them. Look at each of those feelings as a hard part of your heart (ego). You don’t eradicate them. You give them your unconditional attention and acceptance (aka – unconditional love). As you love them, they convert from dysfunctional, stuck emotions (energy), to functional healthy emotions (energy). The dysfunctional emotions are fear, anger, grief, and any combination of those. When they integrate into your heart, it feels amazing. You usually laugh and cry happy tears for a while.

    When all is integrated, you no longer get angry or fearful or sad. And you’re completely in the moment. The Presence Process explains how to do this and walks you through it week by week. It’s a lot easier than Vipassan. Only takes two fifteen-minute breathing sessions a day, basically. It changed my life completely, and my health is marginally better now too. Anyone’s welcome to contact me with questions. Good luck!

  46. Sanjay says

    Thanks for sharing your experience … I have attended one session in 2012 and it completely changed my outlook towards world.. I come from dharmic background (Hindu) so I could relate much easily to the concepts. I have been doing daily practice for past two years and I am getting insight in bits as I observe myself and understand from my experience. I have also attended number of one day sessions and this also helped me. So sum total of my experience is that it took me many session of listening to Goenkaji and reading about doctrine to over come my negative behaviour pattern.. I have not become buddha but I have more control on my emotions and my family is happy with me.

  47. says

    This is the second 10 day silent mediation retreat I’ve done in my life and it has had a profound effect on my life. I did it at age 26 and at 52 It helps to continue a regular meditation practice which I have continued for 25 years or so. Meditation practice will change your life for the better if you continue doing it and it is proven scientifically to be beneficial in many ways. When we learn to observe your thoughts, we can learn to master them. I highly recommend this center as it is very well run, the food is delicious and it’s in a beautiful tranquil location. As for the feeling of the gash in your forehead, it sounds like your third eye opened. I had more strange bodily experiences the first time than the second time but it is always different for everyone. For me this time, I learned mostly about compassion. It’s well worth spending 10 days. It will transform your life, especially if you keep meditating daily, even 20 min twice a day.

  48. Rahul says

    Sorry to take you back to basics!
    Are the bath and toilet clean, and so also bed mattress and pillow? Can I take my walk once a day when hey give a decent break?
    Thanks and Rgds

    • Justin says

      At the location where I did the retreat, yes the bathroom and bedding were clean. About taking a walk once a day I actually don’t remember if you’d have a chance for that – it’s been years since I did the retreat myself. I’m sure if you contact the organization they could answer that.

      • Maureen says

        I am going on the 10 day retreat on the 6th of December what are the main things I need to take . Any advice would be helpful

        • Justin says

          Wish I could help! But again since i’ts been so long since I did the retreat I don’t think I can give you good advice about what to bring. I’m sure if you ask the people putting on the retreat they could let you know. Hope you find the retreat worthwhile.

  49. CL says

    The ten day retreat was the best thing I’ve ever done. I teach High School. After my retreat, I’ve had a great deal more patience and effectiveness as a Teacher. If you get the chance, I would highly recommend it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it! Don’t give up… By the end, you’ll see the bigger picture. The people on this blog who complained about the retreat were the ones who quit after a few days. How can quitting give a person a fair view of the whole technique? My advice is: give the technique a fair trial, keep an open mind, and recognize that your ego is going to become very frightened by the idea of losing its grip on you… In other words, ego will come up with all kinds of notions and paranoid stories about why you need to leave/give up. Ego is afraid of being dismantled – go figure!

  50. jlc says

    I am a little concerned about the 10 hours of meditation per day. Is it all while sitting? When you have meditation away from the group setting, can you walk around? Lay? Is it all required to be sitting.

    • bill says

      You can find the schedule on-line; do a Google search. I’ve attended on 10-day; yes it is ALL sitting meditation but only 1 hour at a time, for 1st time people you really only need to be in the hall to sit about 3-4 times/day; the remainder you can meditate in your rooom (tho I found it better to go to the hall, I tend not to do it if I’m alone). It is physically taxing the first 1-3 days but you get used to and over the discomfort of sitting. If you go, try to follow the schedule – this is time for ‘fair trial’ of the technique so make your best effort at that, if you slack off you will only deprive yourself of what will most likely be a good experince, tho it will also be difficult.
      Good Luck/Bill

  51. Kevin says

    Based on reading some and skimming most posts here, I have a few comments:

    First, thanks for the review. It was helpful and did not encourage nor discourage me to apply for a retreat.

    I have been considering a Vipassana retreat because I want to do a week or longer group meditation retreat, and most options are not inexpensive (often between $1000-$2000 for a weekly all included). I found the Vipassana Meditation Centers via this website: That page lists centers that offer week or longer retreats in the “insight” vein that align with mindfulness practices as taught and used in Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBSR). I am a counselor interested in MBSR training, and a week group retreat is a prerequisite for that program.

    I was introduced to meditation decades ago through the Shambhala tradition (included on the list on the above link), but I did not begin meditating regularly until a couple of years ago. I rarely miss a day without sitting at least twenty minutes, and often I sit twice daily. The only group meditation retreat I’ve experienced was a weekend Shambhala training, but I have done my own week in a cabin (admittedly marginally disciplined). I’m also working the free MBSR training available at

    I plan to do another couple of weekend retreats at a Shambhala center this winter and spring before trying a week this summer either with the folks, at UMass, or elsewhere, but my point here is that I know from my own meditation experience that I would not want to dive into a highly structured ten day experience without considerable meditation practice and at least some day-long group experiences. My anxiety about a longer retreat comes from the physical difficulty of sitting for long periods of time. I often meditate on a chair because I have had back surgery and still have considerable pain in my hip and leg when seated for long periods on a cushion. I also know that early in my meditation experience I faced recurring thought patterns and emotions that were at first quite disturbing, and I had to newly confront my own underlying self-loathing, shame, and anxiety stemming from past trauma and abuse. Acceptance, equanimity, and self-compassion develop with time and practice. A silent ten-day without the freedom to talk with someone about these thoughts and emotions would no doubt have been an intense struggle for me. Stuff bubbles up and for this reason I strongly recommend dipping one’s toes into shorter group experiences before diving into a week or ten days.

    All that said, I am and will be ready for a longer retreat come summer. I also know that my meditation and mindfulness practice has made me a better counselor, husband, colleague, and friend to myself as well as others. My concentration is improved, I’m a better listener and observer, and my compassion and lovingkindness has grown. The website has a lot of links to excellent videos and articles about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. I recommend checking them out. I am interested in a longer retreat, but what ultimately matters is how we approach each day within our normal routines while living in the present.

  52. The cynic turned yogi says

    My first experience was life changing…the rest of my vipassana meditations have been more challenging….
    he sings in pali, not evil subliminal crap.
    Its not a cult…
    You cannot expect that change will come to you drastically….however that being said,your higher awareneess of self, thought and actions is what determines whether your behavior changes
    Om tat sat

  53. Rose says

    Hi Justin,

    Thank you for your honest, thoughtful account of your 10 day Vipassana retreat.
    Thanks also to everyone for all the great comments.
    I did my 10 days in Melbourne in 2012 and I am looking online again because I might be thinking of doing another. I went in winter and although the bedrooms and meditation hall was well heated, the cold was an added stress for me. I took a faux fur rug which was not appropriate at all, I realised. Fortunately I took an alternative shawl. Melbourne gets cold in winter. If I go again, I’ll do the summer.

    The organisation was superb and everything was done to help you to get the best possible experience. And gee, it was hard.

    My personal comment on S.N Goenka is that he is a real character, very sincere and quite funny, perhaps unintentionally. He is also tone deaf and his chanting is grim. I found this really touching and rather inspiring. His wife looks nice and doesn’t get to say anything at all.

    I found that even though I listened hard and his instructions were clear, I would realise, after hours of work sometimes, that I had missed out a vital part and just not understood some really simple thing. I marvel constantly in life how we, me and others, sabotage ourselves all the time.

    I realised that all my life I have been afraid of encountering unbearable pain that I couldn’t escape. So guess what happened? It was unbearable, but of course there is nothing else to do, once you give up trying to find a way around it, but to bear it and I found that I could bear it.

    This might not sound like much but I was left with a sense of inner strength that I still have today. I know you aren’t supposed to get into making a story out of an experience in case you become attached to that story or experience and considering I have meditated my entire life without a single crumb of anything happening, it was a big deal for me. I still can’t sit in a decent posture without fidgeting and I am not embarrassed about that now.
    I completed 10 days of Vipassana!

    I am not a writer but while meditating I thought of two ideas for novels. One was about a murder on a meditation course. I did start to think the teacher and the assistant were trying to kill me and then realised that I was trapped there having given up my phone and car keys. I was going to try and make a run for it at one point and go to the police. Seems weird now and it was very real and very scary at the time. The teacher said it has happened before and the police had handled it pretty well.

    I sincerely hope that I can have a more ordinary experience next time. I don’t think somehow it will be hard in that way. To top it off there was an earthquake on the last day and the meditation hall, shook all over which was pretty cool. No one moved at all. Naturally I thought I was going to die and didn’t as usual. That will not happen again, the earthquake I mean.

    Life eh? Who’d sign up for it if you had a choice?

    Best of luck. if you are uncertain, do it. More fun than sky diving or bungee jumping.
    You will be very well looked after. Try and stay the full course whatever happens, there were
    people on it having another go after walking out early. Even people who could sit beautifully with calm faces left early- but I finished, fidgeting all the way. I amazed myself.

  54. says

    My first 10-Day was a bit of a blur — a kind of WTFWT! It took me by surprise and definitely shook me up, but I can’t say I found it enlightening. Perhaps I had too many layers of conditioning and bullshit to break through. It did bother me for a few years though, to the extent that I decided to do another on. This is the one that did it for me. I knew what to expect, knew all the turns in the road, and the result was very powerful. I got rid of a lot of unnecessary and limiting baggage. This one was a home run.

  55. Chris says

    I recently attended a Vipassana course in Michigan. Sadly it was very disappointing since 4 days in I found out the centre was infected with bedbugs and that several people had been bitten over the 4 days including myself. It was an anticlimax since the organisers knew of the problem from day 1 but decided to contain the problem by not telling us (their words). Eventually I found out by breaking the silence from one of the other retreaters. I felt it to be a contradiction in terms to the claim of the organisers that we should only be honest in life. Also it was a health and safety risk since they sprayed strong pesticides in the dorm whilst we were living there and did not inform us of any risks. It seemed like our safety did not matter much to them. When challenged they said we could stay in the dorm where we were being bitten for the next 6 days or leave as they didn’t want to move us for fear of spreading the problem. Not much of a choice and many of us had to take the difficult decision to leave. Very disappointing

  56. B says

    I’ve done 10, 1 and 3 day courses and plan on signing up for another 10 for next year. I will likely try to do at least a 3 or 10 each year if I can. I found it a wonderful way to get away from wifi, the distractions of social constructs that layer upon layer upon us, unwind the spin of human error/desire/false constructs, and get to know just how detached I can be from my body and it’s sensations due to all these extra bags thrown on it.

    For me it’s physically painful for the first day, but then my body gets used to sitting for longer and longer periods and I give in to the ebb and flow of sensations. My favorite aspect is the Metta mediation on the last day. It’s a beautiful loving-kindess/compassion focussed meditation which makes transitioning into “noble speech” really lovely and kind of intense. If you’re just looking for Metta – you can also find lovely retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Mass.

    There are 3 opportunities to go for walks and I always take advantage of these as I am a very active person. Accommodations were great (I feel sorry about the post about bed bugs – that would be awful) and food is nutritious and tasty.

    I’ve wondered about the cult-ness of this type of Vipassana course as noted by other folks who have some criticism, but I never felt pressured to give (and continue to give) money or worship a particular entity/person. That, for me, helps legitimize it. They did tell me the cost of operation per person for 10 days at the center I was at ($260) so I was more than comfortable giving at least that amount at the end. I’ve spent that on an evening at an AirBnB that didn’t feed me or teach anything so it’s not like I feel like I’m paying a month’s salary for a mantra (no offense to TMers in the house).

    The piece about taking your phone and keys was actually quite liberating and felt like I could get deeper w/in w/o those distractions. And, I believe, this is voluntary. About not practicing any other “energy” types of healing or moving (like Reiki or others), I agree that focussing on one type of meditation is ideal, but I also know people who continue to practice Cranio-sacral, hypnotherapy, Reiki, Medical QiGong and still go to Vipassana courses – even though these other modalities are “discouraged.” I’d just keep it separate and not do those other practices while on a Vipassana course or while learning the technique.

    I recommend at least trying one once if it resonates for you. And trying to stay for the whole time if you can. If you’ve ever run a marathon, it feels kind of like that. Not everyone is built to do it and some folks might prefer a 10k instead. There are many forms of meditation and retreats. I have friends who love TM and friends who love Vipassana and friends who have found it through ayahuasca. It’s your journey and I think the point is to listen to yourself to see where you will go next.

    • B says

      One last thing about the cult idea and Goenka’s chanting – if you’ve ever been to a Catholic mass with the service in Latin, it seems pretty much the same in a way. I never felt brainwashed, just didn’t understand the language and assumed it wasn’t being expressed to harm me or indoctrinate me. After the course and looking up the songs/chantings, they all seemed really lovely so I never felt like it was some hypnotic thing trying to rob me of free will. Though, I could see how Goenka’s particular approach might be a turn off to some.

  57. Myview says

    I went for 10 days retreat recently. Could stay only for 2 days. Congrats to all who have successfully completed d whole course. For me it was unbearable. It was like preparing for marathon and on first day itself I’m asked to practice running for 4hours continuously. Very unusual for me. It’s like trying to learn guitar within one day. I think it would give sense of accomplishment to complete d course and of course d benefits r there since experienced people have shared it. Came back to my home on 3rd day morning. I couldn’t adjust to all d surroundings. Couldn’t even talk to my wife open heartedly. I guess d system works as so many friends have shared. For me it’s worst than prison. What is that leaves the lasting impact, d experience of that mindfulness benefits or d torture that v endure. food is good, facility is good, everything is fine d only problem is d bird liked d food, it liked d golden cage, it loved ur care but d most important thing for d bird is freedom of flying. I.m very sure it’s not d way Buddha taught to his followers. I would definitely recommend d technique but not d way it’s been adopted.

  58. Robert says

    Hi Everyone
    I tried to read all the comments but there just too many and many people were saying the same things.
    Here is my POV and experience with Vipasssana.
    First, there is a difference in understanding for someone who has gone to one 10-day retreat, and those who have gone more than once, even many times.
    On my fifth 10-day course, one of the women in the vehicle on the way back commented that she thought there was “brainwashing” because Goenka was talking (instructing) whilst she was meditating. This was her first retreat. I agreed with her that it does seem to have that possibility present. So, at the next retreat I went to, I listened very carefully to everything Goenka was saying the whole 10 days. The result was that I understood he was telling you how to conduct yourself in the technique, and that if you did follow the instructions, you would have these specific experiences over time …he called them “stations”.

    What is most interesting is that with my intellectual mind, I thought I understood what he was referring to, as I did experience what Justin spoke of, which is focusing on those painful areas of sensations that seemed to diminish their impact or influence by that focus and not reacting. I believed, as Justin did, that this was “equanimity”.
    However, I reached a place while meditating where the struggle to keep my mind focused completely disappeared, and I was in a state of a “still mind”. The struggle ceased and here i was. I didn’t have a name for this place, but found out later that it is a Jhana level, or as Goenka calls it, “bhanga-nana”. Although it is a “still mind”, there was a sense of heightened awareness, and lo and behold, there it was … I was experiencing many of the attributes and descriptions that Goenka had described. And I remember very clearly thinking to myself, “So this is what he was talking about. Now I understand.”

    So this is the crux of the whole Vipassana meditation experience. When you do experience it in its fullness, you “get it”. And during that 6-hours of “still mind”, I came to understand and experience true equanimity. It’s not what you could understand with an intellectual mind, it’s more like being in a place where you just don’t react, mainly because you have this incredible awareness of why the situation is occurring.
    I should add that I purposely set out to reach the state of a still mind, it was not an accident. Although I had experienced it for much shorter time periods in previous retreats (i.e. 10 mins to 1 hour) by circumstance of working very hard at meditating, please do not feel concerned or worried that it would happen to you “out of the blue”. It won’t. It takes much practice at focusing on your breath (or your sensations) before you might experience it. And there are other instances in my life when deep spiritual experiences have occurred, so I was likely primed for it.
    To all, many happy experiences with whatever path you travel along.

  59. AnotherJustin says

    I’ve been doing various meditation retreats for 15 or 20 years (and practicing most days). When I started,many years ago, I also thought that the people who had been meditating for a long time were pretty ordinary and I was not very impressed by them.
    Now, however I am one of these old ones…. and my attitude has changed alot.
    I don’t judge people in this way.
    Whilst I am a very ordinary person who impressed nobody very much. The difference I feel inside me is profound. Other people don’t see this necessarily, maybe including my family? But the changes which happen due to meditation are deep. They are not showy. My practice is not to achieve psychic states or abilities and is not to impress other people.
    Equinimity makes people much much happier in a quiet way.

  60. Eric says

    Thanks for your write up Justin. I haven’t done a 10 day retreat nor do I intend to. But I have been very interested in Goenka as I’ve been reading and moved by books by the historian Yuval Harari and he is a follower of Goenka’s Vipassana. It’s clear from reading through the comments that people have a diverse range of experiences and attitudes about Vipassana. I practice Goenka’s method and meditate an hour/day. For those who are interested YouTube has all ten days of Goenka’s evening lectures here

  61. says

    In a questionable moment of sanity, I decided to book a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat for my birthday. I had no idea what I was in for. Without bothering to do much research beforehand, I figured it’d be nice to disconnect and take a break from technology and social media, relax, and do some yoga and meditation. On a good week, I average about 20 minutes of meditation every few days, so this seemed like a solid way to try and practice it more regularly.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>