Silent Night, Vipassana Night
Christmas 2020, the Christmas I spent silent, literally.
I was sitting in silence, meditating. I participated in a 10-days vipassana course held in Dhamma Java, Gunung Geulis, Bogor, about 1.5 hour drive away from Jakarta.
This isn’t my first time; I did it before back in 2013, in Dhamma Bhumi, Blue Mountain, New South Wales Australia. And after that I did other silent retreats from different sources.
2020 was not an easy year for everyone. The Dhamma Java retreats (like everything else) was cancelled since March, at the beginning of Covid Pandemic. In 2019 I participated in a 3-day retreat and several times 1-day meditation, and I’ve been missing them badly. The retreats are offered again late 2020 with strict observance of health protocol, and with half capacity. I participated in a 3-day retreat in October, and decided to take a longer 10-day retreat to end the year.
My intention in writing this is so that more people will go and try it. I will not reveal too much because everyone’s experience will be unique, and I don’t want people to set expectations.
What is it?
Vipassana is a meditation technique originally taught by Siddharta Gautama the Buddha. It is said the technique was lost over time, and was preserved in a lineage of monks in Myanmar.
S. N. Goenka, an Indian businessman in Myanmar, was taught this technique by his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin, and eventually brought the teachings back to India, and then spread it all over the world. Now there are over two hundred centers of Vipassana Meditation Centers as taught by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin.
Complete information at Vipassana Research Institute website: vridhamma.org
What made you do it?
Back in 2012-2013 I was undergoing a yoga teacher training with Satyananda Yoga Australia, and meditation was part of what I learned. As I looked more into meditation, I found out about Vipassana. What impressed me the most was the strict no-talking no phone rule. I was piqued and felt a little bit challenged; it became something that I wanted to ‘conquer’ (hello ego! ^__^)
I knew there was a center in Bogor, but at that time the schedule did not match. And then I got lucky – because I had to go to attend my yoga training in Australia anyway, I looked up Dhamma Bhumi’s schedule, and there was one that fitted perfectly in my travel plan.
What’s so good about it that you keep going again?
In my first experience, the first two/three days was rather torturous; my body ached from all the sitting; my mind was fluctuating between anxiety and drowsiness. Somehow on the fourth day I started to feel better, the mind was becoming more and more quiet, and by day seven I felt the stillness of the mind, like a clear lake with no ripples. And that felt so good, so whole.
There was a distinct moment on 7th or 8th day where I was just hanging out sitting near some very common sidewalk plant with small yellow flowers. As I observed the flower I suddenly had full appreciation of it’s beauty; normally I wouldn’t even notice the flower. And this childhood song came to my mind:
Bunga-bunga di padang, diberi keindahanA Christian song from childhood
Terlebih diriku, dikasihi Tuhan
Flowers in the field, were given such beauty [because God loves them]
Let alone me, I’m very much loved by God.
I understood fully the meaning of this song. This was not an intellectual understanding, but a deeper understanding. And then a bee was visiting the flower, and then I had this flash of knowing how all things – plants, insects, animals, humans, earth, sky, universe – everything are interconnected. My whole being knew, not just my mind… it’s difficult to explain.
This time, I was able to enjoy meditation from the beginning. I was able to sit, concentrate, and not move for one full hour. I was not drowsy nor anxious; just calm, alert, beautiful quietude. At the end of 10 days I felt so fresh and clear. And the discourses, I actually listened and understood them. My first time, I always fell asleep during the discourses.
What do you do all day?
The schedule is pretty full; the day starts at 4:00 when the wake up bell rings. First meditation session begins at 4:30. Breakfast served at 6:30, followed by rest time. Meditation session again from 8:00 with short breaks in between. Lunch served at 11:00, followed by rest time. Meditation session again from 13:00 with short breaks in between. Tea served at 5:00. Meditation again at 18:00, followed by discourse at 19:00 and another short meditation session before finishing the day at 21:00.
Total meditating hours – 8. The discourses are about 1.5 hour long.
You really can’t talk? To anybody?
We’re not talking to other participants. We can ask questions about meditation to the Assistant Teacher at scheduled times, and speak to the course volunteers if we have any accommodation/food/health etc problems.
Can I read books? Listen to music?
Can I keep my phone?
Our mobile phones are checked in on the day we arrived.
What if I’m bored?
It is difficult to do nothing. We’re so conditioned to always do something.
My first time, I wash my clothes everyday to fill time. I walked around the woods. I stacked and arranged stones. I read and re-read the few announcements posters. I read and re-read ingredients at the back of shampoo bottle.
This time I clean my room, sweep the pathway around my room, wash clothes, plan and prepare what to wear the next day, nap, watch spiders, bugs, snails, and other insects.
What should I bring?
Just yourself and some clothes, toiletteries, personal medications.
What if there’s emergency?
Give the center’s contact numbers to your family; but do let them know that it’s only for emergency and you’re not supposed to be contacted. If you’re experiencing something emergency the center management will contact your family.
How much does it cost?
Nothing; it’s free. You don’t have to pay anything. The course was funded by donation from previous participants. You are welcome to give donation at the end, that will be used to fund next courses.
What are the health protocols observed in Dhamma Java during this pandemic period?
- Arriving on the first day, we either bring negative result of Covid 19 test, or get checked on site with a rapid test kit
- We’re required to wear mask in public spaces
- Wash hands before entering dining hall & meditation hall
- Temperatures are checked twice daily
- Majority of participants get individual rooms. If dorm rooms need to be used, they are only filled with one or two person (out of four beds available)
- The centre is operating in half capacity.
Not convinced yet. Why should I go?
You don’t have to, totally up to you. But in my opinion, if someone has the opportunity to do it, then at least once in a lifetime, do it.
Where do I sign up?
For Dhamma Java, here: dhammajava.org
For International, here: vridhamma.org