What is physical there is just vibrations, everything looks almots identical to hereFly in your dreams; control your dreams. I flew to Burma from Bangkok, took a bus the next day from Yangon to Mudon, and asked the driver to drop me off at Pa-Auk Tawya Monastery, which was on the way. I got there at about 3am, walked around and in fact, kind of got lost in this vast monastery!
Eventually, I found the foreigner’s registration office, where a monk – who spoke accent-heavy and hardly understandable English – asked me a few questions on my reason for coming to Pa-Auk Tawya and my earlier meditation experiences. He then proceeded to recite the 8 Buddhist precepts in Pali, which I had to repeat after him, as is the tradition. Like I expected, I was instructed to start by focusing on the breath at the region below the nostrils, above the upper lip. Going for alms is a very humbling experience ; you basically depend on the generosity and goodwill of other people to eat.
With temperatures often exceeding 40°C, Burma is hot as hell.  Drenched in sweat, I could hardly maintain awareness of my breath.
After an afternoon of meditation, I went to the monastery’s library and talked with an Indian monk who recommended me the book “A Map of the Journey” by U. Carrying on with the daily schedule, the afternoon session was uncomfortable, the discomfort caused by the heat made it very hard for me to concentrate and maintain peace of mind.
The following morning, everyone had to go to a hall and take the 8 precepts again by repeating them after a monk. Again, my concentration was improving, my meditation sessions were peaceful, but I was still not getting a clear Nimitta.
Nevertheless, the mind was definitely getting more and more inclined to watch the breath – or the breath sensations – to the point where it would take strong conscious effort not to be aware of it. The next day, I read the section of Mastering the Core Teaching of the Buddha discussing concentration practices (the book was available at the monastery’s library). In the morning session that came right after breakfast, it felt like I kind of “nailed it” for a few instants. I went to my teacher to describe my experience, and he told me that I got the “light”, as he called it, very quickly.
The next day, I was still experiencing the shortness of breath, and I felt like this was really stopping my concentration from getting deeper. Randomly, in the late afternoon, a monk came up to me and gave me money (about 5$ in Kyats).
Again, I felt that although my concentration had its ups and downs, overall it was improving. I was coming back home, so I went through the day of taking the plane and eventually arriving back home, in Canada.
Although my body was getting adapted more accustomed to long periods of sitting meditation, it got very hard to concentrate. It’s so easy to “try too hard” and to develop expectations of oneself in meditative practice. The Nimitta also improved and became more stable, and for one of the first times, I started getting strong waves of bliss and peace. My confidence in the path taught at Pa-Auk Tawya went down, and even accessing blissful states seemed totally pointless. Now, for those of you not familiar with insight practice, my object of meditation now became the sensations, thoughts, emotions and states of mind that made up my reality, from moment to moment.
The technique consists in mindfully observing reality as it is being experienced to gain understanding and wisdom.
Unlike in Goenka Vipassana retreats, where meditators are instructed to only pay attention to the body sensations (at least in 10-day courses), I also turned my attention to thoughts, emotions and states of mind, which are more somewhat more subtle. From that point, I embarked on a roller-coaster that took me back and forth from extremely blissful states to severely depressed ones.
While reading, keep in mind that it’s very hard for me to put into words some of these insights and experiences, but I’ll do my best to make this understandable to you readers. On the 22nd day, in the late afternoon, while meditating, I began experiencing my sensations and thoughts as very distant. This experience lasted between the sitting meditation sessions, and it was so intense that doing anything besides meditating seemed pointless.
At that point, although most of “my” experience of reality seemed very clear, a gigantic problem was still left unsolved.
As soon as that question arose, I felt very strong vibrations and palpitations throughout my body. It didn’t make sense that experiences were “out there” and that the observer was “over here”.
After a few hours of meditating – that seemed like half an hour at most – I went back to my room and drifted into sleep. Although it wasn’t making me “suffer”, I still can say that the pain was extremely strong, it felt like every muscle and organ of my body was twisting in the wrong direction.
The rest of the week basically consisted of almost non-stop meditating, since it was the best way to deal with my physical discomfort. It also got increasingly obvious that nothing “out there” would ever bring deep and lasting satisfaction. The only thing that seemed stable was the consciousness that was noticing and “knowing” all that was happening. As I was going back home the next week, I started thinking a lot more about “real life” and about what I was going to do next.
A few days before I left, a monk also offered to teach me yoga in a wooden cabin he had built himself on top of a nearby mountain. Although at some point I felt like they were leading nowhere, concentration practices helped me reach some very interesting territories. This entry was posted in Experiments, Meditation on September 17, 2014 by Gabriel Rocheleau.
The USA center suggested me to contact the Myanmar center and request the Sponsorship Letter from them. The only other option to obtain a sponsorship letter would be to mail them directly at the monastery, but this could take quite a while so it might not be your best bet considering you want to go there in a few months.
Let me know how that works out for you and I wish you an insightful and valuable meditation retreat. I received the sponsorship letter a little more than a week ago from the mentioned email too!
In the event that they reject or delay my meditation visa application, my course of action is to fly over to Thailand and then apply for it at the Thailand Embassy. As we are both Dhamma followers and plan to stay at the same meditation center at the same time, it would be great if we can keep in touch! Yes, Pa Auk Tawya also accepts women, she will be staying in a separate monastery, about a 10 minutes walk away from yours. I did get my ss letter by email in about two weeks and plan on going to the Embassy in Thailand to get the visa, Heard it was pretty easy… Any thoughts on that? I was fortunate enough to have a friend living in Yangon when I arrived, so I stayed at her place. I indeed traveled by night bus, with a ticket from Yangon to Mudon, and asked the driver to drop me off at Pa Auk Tawya, which is on the way. The Burmese embassy in Bangkok, Thailand is indeed the easiest and quickest way to obtain the visa. I have a one-way into Bangkok and a tourist visa and still wondering if I should worry about an out bound. My teacher specified not to focus on the sensations that made up the breath but on the breath itself, seeing it as a continuous entity. Unlike in the Goenka Vipassana retreats I had attended before, I had to go for almsround, like the monks.
I found it to be an extra motivational pratcice reason, since alms are given to us so that we can dedicate ourselves fully to our meditative practice. Jotika, which was indeed a very good read, detailing the stages of meditative practice and addressing some practical concerns meditators may encounter. Even though I slept on a hard wooden plank, I actually felt mentally refreshed, even though my body was a bit sore. I also chatted a bit with my roommate, a 30-year-old Iranian guy, and went back meditating.
I thus decided to ask the monk in charge for permission to meditate in my room, which he granted without hesitation.
I woke up the next morning feeling sicker, so I slept in to attempt to speed up my recovery.

In the morning, a monk gave me a bag of potato chips, a peanut bar and a carton of soy milk.
These resolutions mostly consisted of stating exactly what I was doing, for how long I was doing it and why doing it was a good idea. This will improve my relationship with the present moment, generate peace and happiness and sharpen the mind for insight meditation.
I’m not a huge fan of  “taking precepts”, I find it dogmatic and somewhat useless but hey, they were hosting me so the least I could do was respect their tradition. Although on the one hand, I saw that concentration was improving fast, I began to see how much of a beginner I still was, even after a few years of regular meditation practice. Practicing walking meditation helps to develop the habit to meditate in everyday circumstances. Of course, the mind would wander once in a while, but these gaps in my practice were getting sparser and shorter. I remembered the teacher telling me I had to focus my attention on the “conceptual breath”. He proceeded to tell me that this was likely because I had practiced this technique in a recent past life. I also started to feel some sort of tension in my solar plexus and overall, I felt agitated, sort of as if there was something stressful going on. I saw the Nimitta on many occasions, but it was hard for me to keep focusing solely on the breath when it appeared. Someone probably gave it to him but since he wasn’t allowed to keep or use it, he decided to give it to the first non-monk guy he saw (and I was one of the only ones at Pa-Auk Tawya). I had hints of blissful bodily feelings, which also are an indicator that concentration is getting deeper.
He told me it was likely because I was trying to “see” my meditation object with my physical eyes.
I  had (and still have) the common and bad habit of trying to “seek” specific states as opposed to simply resting in simple awareness of the breath in the present moment, and I should definitely make efforts not to indulge in that tendency.
I was still puzzled and although I knew I was dreaming, it was very hard to recall waking life and be aware of the experience. I was astounded by the quantity and variety of food and stuff we received during the almsround. I did my best to try to simply acknowledge them without participating and when they were attempting to get me off track, I immediately put my full attention on the breath. To be considered proficient in absorption at Pa Auk Tawya Monastery, a meditator has to be able to enter the first four Jhanas at will and stay in them for a few hours, being so absorbed that he can’t even notice if someone screams at him. By some standards, I was already decently proficient in at least the first Jhana since all its factors were present to some degree. I was strongly determined to use this retreat to grow as much as possible as a human being, and didn’t feel like pure concentration practices were an efficient use of my time.
This is the technique taught in the Satipatthana Sutta, which is one of the most influential discourses of Buddha, and upon which Vipassana meditation is based. It was incredible to witness, sensations deconstructed into tiny vibrations by the mere act of observance. They seemed to be “out there”, and my sense of self, which I guess we could call “the observer”, was “over here”.
Physically, my five sensory inputs were experienced with so much distance that it didn’t even feel like it was actually happening to me.
While meditating, the notion of time was hard to keep, as if it was suspended and somewhat irrelevant. On some visceral level, it became obvious that this created a fundamental tension that was inevitably tainting all experiences of reality, regardless of them being pleasant or unpleasant.
My meditative insights pretty much remained the same, “I” still couldn’t figure out who was “watching” all of this, and it clearly felt like something was wrong.
I still experienced sensations, thoughts and mind states in a very spacious and distant way, and the big “who’s seeing all of this” question was puzzling me on a visceral level.
It’s complicated to describe how I experienced them, but they just seemed like tiny abstract ripples.
Somewhat “satisfied” with my insights and experiences so far, I relaxed my meditative practice, and mostly meditated for enjoyment as opposed to insights. I feel like 40 days was the right amount of time, as a shorter period might not have been as insightful. It’s hard to describe into words what has changed since then, but some strong shift has definitely occurred, especially in my perception of “who I am” and in the way “I” experience reality. I currently am having some trouble with obtaining the Sponsorship Letter in the USA because the Sayadaw who can issue sponsorship letter has gone to Europe for a meditation retreat and will not be back until early January. Internet access is still uncommon in Burma and the country is changing very rapidly, so most of the information you’ll find will be outdated. They responded quite quickly with a sponsorship letter attached to the e-mail, which I used to get my Meditation Visa in a Burmese embassy. They asked me to sign an agreement letter and informed me that a sponsorship letter will be issued afterwards!
I got it from Vientiane (Laos) in 24 hours, and I heard you can get it from the Burmese embassy in Bangkok even quicker. I’m first heading to Thailand for a couple of weeks to Wat Pah Nanachat than to the Myanmar Embassy in TL. Is it something along the line – travelling to Bangkok by land, staying there a few days while obtaining a new 28 days tourist visa and returning back to Myanamar ? Traveling in and out of Myanmar by land is pretty much impossible (and very long), I wouldn’t recommend it. There are guest houses and hostels where you could stay for about 15-20$ a night, and hotels which are more expensive. If not I might book a ticket on one of the local flights when I know an exact departure date from Thailand. In my previous 10-day Goenka Vipassana retreats, we only did 3 days of concentration practices and then proceeded to insight meditation.
This visa allowed me to stay for as long as a year in Burma (Myanmar) as opposed to the 28 days normally allowed for tourists. At Pa-Auk Tawya, the wake-up bell is struck at 3:30am every morning so the monastery was already very lively.
The teacher interviews happened in a group setting, my group consisting of about 30 monks and 2 other lay people.
In pure concentration practices, individual sensations are not the object of meditation since they can’t lead to absorption states (Jhanas) because of their impermanent nature (they’re always changing). This was made possible by the local people who supported the monastery by providing meals for us twice daily. I then went to the evening meditation, which went better than the afternoon one (it was a bit cooler, so that definitely helped) and then went to bed. I did some stretching and a little physical exercise and then took a shower to chase the sluggishness away. The morning session went well, I got some early “lights”, which typically are a sign that concentration is improving, although these lights weren’t stable at all.
Monks aren’t allowed to store food overnight, and therefore often gave me stuff they couldn’t keep for themselves.
About halfway in a session, I realized that even though my gross thoughts were sparse and weak, there was still an underlying layer of very frequent “micro-thoughts” that impaired me from becoming fully absorbed.
It was getting clearer that the impression of having good concentration abilities was only caused by the grossness of my mind.
Interestingly, I felt like the “conceptual breath” was easier to nail down and focus on when doing walking meditation than when sitting, perhaps because the act of walking made me not “try too hard”, which is common in sitting practice. The appearance of the light was really helpful in letting me know that I was on the right track. I definitely needed to relax and realize that only an attitude of positive openness and acceptance was likely to produce any results. Nothing external seemed to have triggered this, so maybe it was just some subconscious thing coming up. A defilement I could clearly notice is the tendency for the mind to try to “plan” the future. In the evening session though, my eyes began flickering again, this always seemed to happen during the end of the day. When meditating, one must let go of expectations and be fully mindful of what is occurring NOW. It included flowers, pieces of cloth, cough medicine, skin balm and even DVDs of conferences by the main teacher of the monastery, Pa-Auk Sayadaw!

My teacher told me not to fuel these thoughts, and that it was typical for the mind to try to “escape” the meditation practice by grasping to thoughts and creating stories. I was either letting myself “participate” in some of them, drawn by the entertainment they seemed to promise, or simply tried to overcome them by force, which obviously led to more and more agitation.
Without getting into too much detail, the Jhanas are characterized by their respective factors, which get subtler and subtler as you progress through the Jhanas. However, my teacher told me to keep focusing on the breath until the Nimitta and breath “merged” and pulled me into the first Jhana. Yet, as I kept learning more about the Jhanas taught at Pa Auk Tawya, I felt like I wasn’t even going to achieve the first one before leaving.
I was still experiencing reality in a very spacious and distant way, so it was hard to put these sensations into proper perspective. The symptoms sound somewhat close to Dengue Fever, but since it happened in such a unique context, it’s very hard for me to properly identify it. Observing them in their “abstract” form was in fact a “sober psychedelic experience” in itself. I also read The Way of the Superior Man, which brought back in me strong motivation and enthusiasm to go back to the world and merge my spiritual insights with “real life”. Yoga does an amazing job at integrating the body and meditative practice, something I had neglected to do in the past. A longer time would probably have been a little too much for me, as I felt eagerness to return to “real life” at the end of the retreat.
The Sayadaw is not the one who actually issues the sponsorship letter by the way, as far as I know these matters are dealt with by other monks. If you get a 28 days meditation visa, the monastery will be able to help you extend it when you get to the monastery. The embassy in Phnom Penh told me it would take more than a month once I had the invitation letter. I just sent my original passport, the sponsorship letter, and the applications to the Myanmar Embassy in order to apply for the meditation visa! The best way is definitely to travel by air, you can get some very cheap flights (under 100$ two-way) from Bangkok to Yangon. If there’s any problem, you can always just say you have a bus or a train ticket to Cambodia or something. I always wondered what the results would be if I pushed my concentration further, so I decided to go meditate at Pa Auk for 40 days.
Turn by turn, we went up front, answered the teacher’s questions, asked our own and received instructions.
At Pa-Auk Tawya, meditators typically wait to master pure concentration practices before proceeding to insight meditation (in which sensations are observed).
We therefore stood in line with our bowls, which was generously filled with vegetarian food.
As is usual, especially when I do a lot of meditation, I had sleep paralysis and some cool lucid dreams. I kept my attention on the breath, and for some brief moments, it actually was quite pleasant and effortless. These micro-thoughts lasted only for a blink of an eye after which I went back to the breath. In the context of a meditation retreat, it helped me keep up my practice throughout the day, and not only in formal meditation periods.
Even upon waking up at night, the pleasure of going back to sleep was weaker than my desire to meditate, therefore I sometimes meditated for a good part of the night. Perhaps the impermanent nature of the sensations made it impossible for concentration to become very stable, making my attention waver in a subtle way. I think that the key thing in “nailing” the conceptual breath was to seek and find the only constant and unchanging part of the breath, which is the mental conceptualization of it. He told me to keep practicing and that if sensations arose, not to fight them but to keep the attention on the conceptual breath. On the other side, in some later meditations, I felt like my breath wanted to progressively stop, and that I was gasping for air.
It happened regardless of my posture, I tried sitting, lying, walking, and nothing seemed to make a difference. I stopped seeing thoughts as “enemies”, and this definitely helped me maintain mindfulness, peace of mind and concentration. In the group teacher’s interviews, I repeatedly heard of monks that couldn’t even reach it yet. My condition worsened as the day progressed ; in the afternoon, my body was hurting terribly and I had strong fever (to give you an idea, the outside temperature was above 40°C and I asked for a blanket because I was cold). Thoughts were so much more comfortable in their “abstract” form that it was hard to understand how I could ever go back to normal “formed” thoughts.
It’s much easier to get a 28 days meditation and then extend it in Myanmar than to get a long one beforehand.
The worst that can happen is that somehow you have to book a ticket out of Thailand and show them, but you can always do that with the Airport WiFi. He also taught me the Burmese meditation position, which is the meditation posture I use the most nowadays. One of the first checkpoints in concentration practice is when your meditation object appears as a bright light in your “mind’s eye”.
These thoughts could be anything, from awareness of a surrounding sound to a subtle opinion or judgement about my practice. Obviously, the fact that I was sleeping on a wooden plank didn’t help me want to indulge in excessive sleep! Note that this concept is not “ultimately real”, it’s just an idea, an agglomerate of diverse sensations that we identify as the breath. After lunch, I went outside and reflected on my meditation retreat experience at Pa-Auk Tawya.
I could only “see” reality from far away, with my two eyes resembling two round separate windows.
The only thing I found relief in was meditating, not because it “removed” any symptoms, but because it made them seem so distant that they didn’t bother me at all, it was as if they were happening to someone else. Even “intentions” were seen in “3rd person”, which was somewhat weird, since intentions were strongly associated with my sense of identity. Be sure to get a meditation visa though, that’s the only way that the monastery will be able to extend it for you. It was fascinating to hear about other meditators’ experiences, especially since some of them seemed very advanced in their practice.
I find it unfortunate that walking meditation is not encouraged in Goenka Vipassana 10-day courses.
Once in a while, I had to take deep conscious breath, since I felt like my breathing had stopped.
The best way I can describe is that it felt like I was “watching” a movie that included all 5 senses and thought. Equanimity  – the ability to see reality without desire or aversion – was maintained effortlessly. The most predominant mind state was peace, but even peace was experienced with distance and detachment.
Like everything else, they were just arising and passing away, and were definitely not “me”. I need to go on May 15 … And am told it would take a month at the embassy in Phnom Penh to get the 3 month visa, so I am faced with going for 28 days. When my mind was very agitated or I simply wanted a “break”, I just did walking meditation.
At that point, although it had already been 10 days, like in my previous retreats, I still felt like a lot more stuff had to be done. This brought the overall experience to a whole new level of peacefulness… which disappeared as soon as “I” clung to the peacefulness. It gave me all the benefits of a standard “break” without me losing the inertia of my meditative practice.

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