Want to feel like a giant bag of hot hair? Go for your fourth ten-day meditation retreat, come out feeling like you’ve learned a lot, or at least experienced a great deal that will eventually be synthesized into some sort of new understanding, then come out and write about it. Several hours, several thousand words. Pour forth your new wisdom onto the page, doing your best to pretend to yourself that you’re reasonably humble while at the same time trying to impress your friends, family, and miscellaneous readers by highlighting how hardcore the schedule is and how strict the rules are. Regurgitate a bit about the theory, how everything is empty and stuff. Note that, surprise, you felt happier after coming out of your nearly 300 hours of stringent asceticism. Attach a clever portmanteau title – perhaps “VipassanAgain.” Congratulations, you may now feel justified regarding your decision to go do something quite strange.

Then, just before uploading the post, for curiosity’s sake, check back on the report you had written after your second Vipassana retreat, two years earlier. Note that the content was nearly entirely the same: heavy on “a day in the life” details, medium on theory, and light on anything that would help anyone understand what the point is. Further, note that the title, of which you had until that moment been fairly proud, was EXACTLY the same. Out of a sort of morbid curiosity, go back to your first post, from your first Vipassana, nearly three years before. Note similarities (or rather, “near-identities”) in content and get the feeling that, had that not been your first, the title likewise would have been the same. Collapse.

Yeah, that’s what happened to me. Despite having felt like I had undergone quite a few significant experiences over the course of the retreat, the above effort to put them into words undermined my convictions about having anything useful to share, so I shelved the article. Although my initial intention had been to honestly relay my Vipassana experience, the post had turned into a justification (to be achieved by length and faux-depth) for my having done the Vipassana in the first place. And perhaps, by extension, for even more – for my interest in Buddhism, for my last sevenish years in Asia, and for my whole way of being in general.

This post is quickly going that way too.

BUT nowadays I’m reading this book called “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha” by Daniel Ingram, one of the themes of which is that despite the rising popularity of Buddhism in our culture, practitioners, and even advanced ones, still tend to hold back when talking about specifics. People will say “I’m happier,” “I’m calmer,” or “I’m working through my issues,” but don’t too often get beyond this sort of fuzziness. Perhaps nobody wants to boast, or to sound like a whacko. Or perhaps they don’t want to admit that they haven’t gotten what they’re looking for. Or that they don’t know what they should be looking for. I’m guilty of all of these, to some extent.

On the Goenka courses, even though you’re allowed to speak to one another on the last day, you’re explicitly told NOT to talk about your meditation experiences during the course, or on other courses, or with other techniques. The reason given is that hearing the experiences of more advanced meditators may lead you to comparison and even craving, whereas the proper attitude is simply one of determination: I will practice diligently, faithful that understanding, wisdom, enlightenment, reduction of suffering, and so on will come to me when I am ready for them.

The problem is that, as solitary of a pursuit as meditation is, one needs support. You need teachers to tell you what to do, peers more advanced than you to help you evaluate the teachers, and peers less advanced than you to help you reflect on your progress and understand how far you’ve come. Or failed to come. While I do believe that the danger mentioned above is real, I also believe it’s surmountable. As long as I trust that things will take their course, I can recognize that I’m slow without growing resentful or generating self-loathing; or I can recognize that my progress has been fast without taking excessive pride. Anyhow, no matter what one’s level of development, the only way to move forward is to keep practicing.

So, from time to time, I’d like to write and talk and be a little more open about my Vipassana experiences. This time I’ll leave out all the crap about how the retreats are ten days long and relatively strict and pretty difficult but in the end probably worth it because they make you wiser in some vague way. I’ll leave all that out, and mention just a few tiny specifics. Because there are some things about Vipassana worth sharing, and I do hope that by sharing them I can help nudge people towards making time for at least one course. And also that I can push myself towards a better understanding of what meditation has achieved for me. Perhaps through comments or discussion generated, I’ll also figure out what it could have or should have achieved, whether I’m working the right way, or whether it’s worth it to be working at all.

More Vipassana stuff at

The Unconditioned Universe (conventionally attributed to Daniel Ingram)’s website at MCTB is available as a free pdf download. Video, audio, and other material often available.

My old Vipassana posts can be found at

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4 Responses to VipassanAgain

  1. 썌키 says:

    When writing about vipassana, you should also make sure to change fonts after the first paragraph of your post.

  2. Tanya says:

    Well done.

    • Michael Roy says:

      Just get Luke to start pulling his weight and you two will be there in no time!

      Unfortunately, the SRI’s aren’t making anywhere near as much as the plain old market funds, though they still beat my old bank account by about a thousandfold.