For four and a half years I’d taken a weekly meditation class from Do Gong Sunim, aka John Barazzuol.
Now I must admit that I am very prejudiced in favor of the Vipassansa meditation, which comes from the Theravadan Buddhist tradition in which I received my first, high ordination as a Buddhist monk. Also, in various times in my life as a lay person, I have taken a few of the Vipassana retreats run by the teachers under Goenka.
A few weeks later I was with the Vipassana group on a public bus for Sico Farm in Dasmarinas, Cavite, where Dhamma Phala is located.
During the retreat, when the bell struck repeatedly at four in the morning and I had to struggle into my clothes, wash up a bit and head up the gentle rise from the women’s quarters to the meditation hall, in my head I was also hearing the temple bell and the wooden drum, loud enough to waken the dead, and the monk strolling around the courtyard, beating the wooden mokt’ak to summon everyone to the temple. It was strange not putting palms together and bowing when I entered the Vipassana center’s meditation hall, a plain white building with cushions in royal blue on the men’s side and powder blue on the women’s side, a seat for the teacher in front and recording equipment to play audio and videotapes.
Meditation began when the teacher put on an audiotape of Goenka’s chanting in Pali, followed by Goenka’s instructions. By the end of the seventh day, when Goenka informed us that we were now ready for surgery and that we should cut out those unwanted miseries we had brought with us, I thought, “How does he know?” I also felt he was right, and I did some work on the worry and resentment I’d brought with me, but not without remembering Goldstein and Kornfield’s saying, “You can learn a lot from anger.” Why should one take only one approach?
On the way home, one of the women told me she’d actually signed up for the retreat in order to lose weight, and later she sent a text that she’d lost ten pounds. Carol Dussere was a professor of English at Xiamen University in Fujian, China in 1984-86 and at Dongguk University in Seoul, Korea from 1989 to 2006. The first part will be about my encounter with 10-day Vipassana (Mindfulness) Retreat, and the second part will be a reflection of what I have learnt.
But I also experienced the same suffering as they.  I embrace the suffering and I enjoy the bliss.
My head was full of images from approximately two decades before, when Dogong and Mujin and Chikwan Sunim—all monks and nuns from English-speaking countries—took our meditation class to Sudok Temple, a few hours from Seoul, for three or four weekends of meditation. Sudok-sa was a traditional Buddhist temple with buildings with curved tiled roofs and enormous Buddha statues, all financed by the same Chogye Order which paid my university salary. For the first three days, we were to concentrate on the breath coming in and out of the nostrils, first on the inner wall and then on the bit of skin outside and below the nostrils. The woman I sat behind wore a tee-shirt which said on the back “Ang galing mo!” or “Good for you.” It seemed she was also cheering me on.
True, we maintained silence and avoided even nonverbal communication, but it was clear that, except for the three who left early, everyone on the women’s side was following the rules, working on the meditation, maybe also feeling she was having a life-altering experience. I discovered I’d lost six and a half of the fifteen pounds I’ve been wanting to take off for years—and that’s without exercise. He trains his teachers to run a very tight ship as far as discipline and rules and regulations go. We sat for eight hours a day in the meditation hall, mostly facing the walls, while the old clock creaked and banged its way through the hour. In contrast, the Vipassana Society is supported entirely by donations from former students—no religious affiliations, no corporate grants, no commercial exploitation of the method.
It was hard to imagine anything more exotic—the hour, the silhouettes of the temple buildings in the dark courtyard. I’ll also never forget sitting for three days at Sudok-sa trying to follow my breath but listening to my thoughts making one judgment after the other, mostly that something was bad.

Since I was unable to write anything down, it insisted on remembering by repeating again and again—even editing sentences or finding the right words. I was learning “the technique.” When Goenka introduced it to us with a guided meditation, I was amazed at how much physical sensation I could feel in my face. I felt less isolated in this overwhelmingly Catholic country with these people who were doing Vipassana during Holy Week.
We were also forbidden any reading or writing materials—I’d heard about this before with Zen practice.
Initially, it all sounds like a bit too much to put up with—but just accept and go with it and you will find yourself in a wonderful meditation environment.
Now I am in no way suggesting you program yourself to go to this retreat expecting to suffer or to be blissed out. Inside the temple, the cosmic patterns painted everywhere, the shaven-headed monks in their robes, the rich light falling on the Buddhas and the paintings, the sound of the brass gong. As he explained in the videotaped lectures, the idea is that by observing our physical sensations and reacting to them with equanimity, we can train the mind to avoid making immediate positive reactions, which lead to craving, or negative reactions, which lead to aversion.
It was frustrating and humbling, and it taught me something about thinking always in dualities. Sometime in the second or third day I realized I’d come up with a post for this website, a blog for another, and the contours of the first chapter of a novel—a misdeed of some sort in a setting of Noble Silence where the participants weren’t allowed to communicate with each other.
Sometimes I felt really good vibes on my body and told myself not to get attached to the feeling.
In a flood of pent-up thought and emotion we shared with each other what we’d been through for the past nine days. I made us coffee in the morning, we gave each other backrubs, and between meals we pigged out on junk food. While the cold wind blew through big cracks in the walls, our group stood behind the monks and participated in the bowing and chanting. I knew also from experience that examining a thought or feeling dispassionately without feeding it any emotional energy can take away its power. When my practice, such as it was, was only to follow the breath, if the mind wandered off to make a banana cream pie I could pull it back and begin again with an in-breath. The first chapter would end in the washroom with the protagonist secretly scrubbing dried blood from a black silk shirt.
I had fears of dropping the soup and watching it spread out over the linseed-oil-papered floor.
When I felt a pain in my back or in my right leg, I warned myself against developing aversion—and when it got really bad I moved the leg a bit.
One woman said that after great agony she’d crawled over to the teacher, a native speaker of German.
At the Vipassana retreat there would be no backrubs because we weren’t allowed to touch each other for the duration of the course. The rules include putting aside all religious objects and practices until the end of the course.

However, I’d just finished rereading Goldstein and Kornfield’s Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation, taken copious notes and loved it. But now, when using the mind to scan the body for physical sensations, I’d come back to what I was supposed to be doing and realize I didn’t know exactly where on the body I’d been when my mind wandered off. Referring to herself as ‘this humble person,’ she begged to be given her old seat where she could lean against the wall.
I waited and I listened to my heart, my guts, my bones (despite the unexpected pain that sprang from wherever I’ve unconsciously buried it). Honestly, it must be great to be in that place where you are willing to make the sacrifice in order to achieve something more.
It was really frustrating to tell myself time after time, “Okay now, start over at the top of the head.” The teacher, who was there to answer students’ questions as well as to play the tapes, suggested that I combine concentration on the body with concentration on inhaling and exhaling.
You untied your set of bowls, lifted out each one and set it on the placemat in the proper order, served or got served, gobbled up your food as rapidly as possible while wasting not one grain of rice, rinsed the bowls with water, scrubbed them with a pickle, poured the dregs in a bucket for the “hungry ghost,” ate the pickle, tied up your set again and stood in line to put the bowls back on the shelf.
I seemed to be holding up as well as the other students, almost all of them half or a third of my age. I have the sense that my focus has sharpened, even though I’m not sure what that means. And on the last minute of the last hour of the last day, during metta [loving-kindness] meditation, I heard the answer. The buildings are metal prefabricated constructions which can be taken apart and moved when the society buys its own land.
I was not at all sure I was willing to follow Goenka’s insistence that one use this technique only, forsaking all others. Once during the group meditations, when we had to sit motionless for an hour, I felt the sweat running down into my ear, tickling unbearably inside my ear, and tried hard to maintain equanimity.
I seemed to have finally gotten what I need to maintain a steady meditation practice, and I was glad to hear about the regular sittings where people who have finished their first 10-day course can practice together. Like what a friend of mine told me, the answers to our questions are really simple and just under our noses. I got on the internet and found a very helpful pamphlet which assured me that students could work independently much of the time, in their own quarters if they like, where they could stretch out on the bed for five minutes if necessary. This was clearly not the kind of situation where you had to be sitting in the meditation hall the whole time and a monk would come around and whack you with a stick if you weren’t sitting up straight.
I came up with recipes for peanut butter cheesecakes, chocolate-coconut cakes, peanut butter banana cakes.

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Comments to «Vipassana meditation retreat in willis tx»

  1. Simpoticniy_Tvar writes:
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