Vipassana: my personal experience

There are various rumors about Vipassana meditation. Some say the practice is too harsh due to the rules that meditators are asked to follow. The second claim that Vipassana turned their life upside down, and the third claim that they saw the latter, and they did not change at all after the course.

Meditation is taught in ten-day courses around the world. During these days, meditators observe complete silence (do not communicate with each other or with the outside world), refrain from killing, lying and sexual activity, eat only vegetarian food, do not practice any other methods, and meditate for more than 10 hours a day.

I took a Vipassana course at the Dharmashringa center near Kathmandu and after meditating from memory I wrote these notes


Every evening after meditation we come to the room, in which there are two plasmas – one for men, one for women. We sit down and Mr. Goenka, the meditation teacher, appears on the screen. He’s chubby, prefers white, and spins stomach-ache stories all the way. He left the body in September 2013. But here he is in front of us on the screen, alive. In front of the camera, Goenka behaves absolutely relaxed: he scratches his nose, blows his nose loudly, looks directly at the meditators. And it really does seem to be alive.

To myself, I called him “grandfather Goenka”, and later – just “grandfather”.

The old man began his lecture on dharma every evening with the words “Today was the hardest day” (“Today was the hardest day”). At the same time, his expression was so sad and so sympathetic that for the first two days I believed these words. On the third I neighed like a horse when I heard them. Yes, he’s just laughing at us!

I didn’t laugh alone. There was another cheerful sob from behind. Out of about 20 Europeans who listened to the course in English, only this girl and I laughed. I turned around and – since it was impossible to look into the eyes – quickly took in the image as a whole. He was like this: leopard print jacket, pink leggings and curly red hair. Humpy nose. I turned away. My heart somehow warmed up, and then the whole lecture we periodically laughed together. It was such a relief.


This morning, between the first meditation from 4.30 to 6.30 and the second from 8.00 to 9.00, I made up a storyhow we – Europeans, Japanese, Americans and Russians – come to Asia for meditation. We hand over phones and everything that we handed over there. Several days pass. We eat rice in the lotus position, the employees do not talk to us, we wake up at 4.30 … Well, in short, as usual. Only once, in the morning, an inscription appears near the meditation hall: “You are imprisoned. Until you achieve enlightenment, we won’t let you out.”

And what to do in such a situation? Save yourself? Accept a life sentence?

Meditate for a while, maybe you really will be able to achieve something in such a stressful situation? Unknown. But the whole entourage and all kinds of human reactions my imagination showed me for an hour. It was nice.


In the evening we again went to visit grandfather Goenka. I really like his stories about the Buddha, because they breathe reality and regularity – unlike the stories about Jesus Christ.

When I listened to my grandfather, I remembered the story about Lazarus from the Bible. Its essence is that Jesus Christ came to the house of the relatives of the deceased Lazarus. Lazarus was already almost decomposed, but they wept so much that Christ, in order to perform a miracle, resurrected him. And everyone glorified Christ, and Lazarus, as far as I remember, became his disciple.

Here is a similar, on the one hand, but on the other hand, completely different story from Goenka.

There lived a woman. Her baby died. She went crazy with grief. She went from house to house, held the child in her arms and told people that her son was sleeping, he was not dead. She begged people to help him wake up. And people, seeing the state of this woman, advised her to go to Gautama Buddha – suddenly he could help her.

The woman came to the Buddha, he saw her condition and said to her: “Well, I understand your grief. You persuaded me. I will resurrect your child if you go to the village right now and find at least one house where no one has died in 100 years.”

The woman was very happy and went to look for such a house. She went into every house and met people who told her about their grief. In one house, the father, the breadwinner of the whole family, died. In the other, the mother, in the third, someone as small as her son. The woman began to listen and empathize with people who told her about their grief, and was also able to tell them about hers.

After passing through all 100 houses, she returned to the Buddha and said, “I realize my son has died. I have grief, like those people from the village. We all live and we all die. Do you know what to do so that death is not such a great grief for all of us? The Buddha taught her meditation, she became enlightened and began to teach meditation to others.

Oh …

By the way, Goenka spoke of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed, as “persons full of love, harmony, peace.” He said that only a person in whom there is not a drop of aggression or anger can not feel hatred for the people who kill him (we are talking about Christ). But that the religions of the world have lost the original that these people full of peace and love carried. Rites have replaced the essence of what is happening, offerings to the gods – work on oneself.

And on this account, Grandpa Goenka told another story.

One guy’s father died. His father was a good person, the same as all of us: once he was angry, once he was good and kind. He was an ordinary person. And his son loved him. He came to the Buddha and said, “Dear Buddha, I really want my father to go to heaven. Can you arrange this?”

The Buddha told him that with 100% accuracy, he could not guarantee this, and indeed no one, in general, could. The young man insisted. He said that other brahmins promised him to perform several rituals that would cleanse the soul of his father from sins and make it so light that it would be easier for her to enter heaven. He is ready to pay much more to the Buddha, because his reputation is very good.

Then the Buddha said to him, “OK, go to the market and buy four pots. Put stones in two of them, and pour oil into the other two and come.” The young man left very joyful, he told everyone: “Buddha promised that he would help my father’s soul go to heaven!” He did everything and returned. Near the river, where the Buddha was waiting for him, a crowd of people interested in what was happening had already gathered.

The Buddha said to put the pots at the bottom of the river. The young man did it. The Buddha said, “Now break them.” The young man dived again and broke the pots. The oil floated, and the stones remained lying for days.

“So it is with your father’s thoughts and feelings,” said the Buddha. “If he worked on himself, then his soul became light as butter and rose up to the required level, and if he was an evil person, then such stones formed inside him. And no one can turn stones into oil, no gods – except your father.

– So you, in order to turn stones into oil, work on yourself, – grandfather finished his lecture.

We got up and went to bed.


This morning after breakfast, I noticed a list near the dining room door. It had three columns: name, room number, and “what you need.” I stopped and started reading. It turned out that the girls around mostly need toilet paper, toothpaste and soap. I thought it would be nice to write my name, number and “one gun and one bullet please” and smiled.

While reading the list, I came across the name of my neighbor who laughed when we watched the video with Goenka. Her name was Josephine. I immediately called her Leopard Josephine and felt that she finally ceased to be for me all the other fifty women on the course (about 20 Europeans, two Russians, including me, about 30 Nepalese). Since then, for Leopard Josephine, I have had warmth in my heart.

Already in the evening, at the hour of the break between meditations, I stood and smelled huge white flowers,

similar to tobacco (as these flowers are called in Russia), only the size of each is a table lamp, as Josephine rushed past me at full speed. She walked very quickly, as it was forbidden to run. She went so full circle – from the meditation hall to the dining room, from the dining room to the building, from the building up the stairs to the meditation hall, and again, and again. Other women were walking, a whole flock of them froze on the top step of the stairs in front of the Himalayas. One Nepal woman was doing stretching exercises with a face full of rage.

Josephine rushed past me six times, and then sat down on the bench and cringed all over. She clasped her pink leggings in her hands, covered herself with a mop of red hair.

The last glow of the bright pink sunset gave way to evening blue, and the gong for meditation sounded again.


After three days of learning to watch our breath and not think, it’s time to try to feel what is happening with our body. Now, during meditation, we observe the sensations that arise in the body, passing attention from head to toe and back. At this stage, the following became clear about me: I have absolutely no problems with sensations, I began to feel everything on the first day. But in order not to get involved in these sensations, there are problems. If I’m hot, then, damn it, I’m hot, I’m terribly hot, terribly hot, very hot. If I feel vibration and heat (and I understand that these sensations are associated with anger, since it is the emotion of anger that arises inside me), then how I feel it! All of myself. And after an hour of such jumps, I feel completely exhausted, restless. What Zen were you talking about? Eee… I feel like a volcano that erupts every second of its existence.

All emotions have become 100 times brighter and stronger, many emotions and bodily sensations from the past emerge. Fear, self-pity, anger. Then they pass and new ones pop up.

Grandpa Goenka’s voice is heard over the speakers, repeating the same thing over and over again: “Just observe your respiration and your sensations. All feelings are changing” (“Just watch your breath and sensations. All feelings are transformed”).

Oh oh oh…


Goenka’s explanations became more complex. Now I sometimes go to listen to instructions in Russian together with a girl Tanya (we met her before the course) and one guy.

Courses are held on the men’s side, and in order to get into our hall, you need to cross the men’s territory. It became very difficult. Men have a completely different energy. They look at you, and although they are as meditative as you are, their eyes still move like this:

– hips,

– face (fluent)

– chest, waist.

They don’t do it on purpose, it’s just their nature. They don’t want me, they don’t think about me, everything happens automatically. But in order to pass their territory, I cover myself with a blanket, like a veil. It is strange that in ordinary life we ​​almost do not feel the views of other people. Now every glance feels like a touch. I thought that Muslim women do not live so badly under a veil.


I did laundry with Nepalese women this afternoon. From eleven to one we have free time, which means that you can wash your clothes and take a shower. All women wash differently. European women take basins and retire to the grass. There they squat and soak their clothes for a long time. They usually have hand wash powder. Japanese women do laundry in transparent gloves (they are generally funny, they brush their teeth five times a day, fold their clothes in a pile, they are always the first to shower).

Well, while we are all sitting on the grass, Nepalese women grab the shells and plant a real flood next to them. They rub their salwar kameez (national dress, looks like loose trousers and a long tunic) with soap directly on the tile. First with the hands, then with the feet. Then they roll the clothes with strong hands into bundles of fabric and beat them on the floor. Splashes fly around. Random Europeans scatter. All other Nepalese washing women do not react in any way to what is happening.

And today I decided to risk my life and wash with them. Basically, I like their style. I also started washing clothes right on the floor, stomping on them barefoot. All Nepalese women began to glance at me from time to time. First one, then the other touched me with their clothes or poured water so that a bunch of splashes flew out on me. Was it an accident? When I rolled up the tourniquet and gave it a good thump on the sink, they probably accepted me. At least no one else looked at me, and we continued to wash at the same pace – together and okay.

After a few washed things, the oldest woman on the course came to us. I named her Momo. Although in Nepalese grandmother would be somehow different, then I found out how – this is a complex and not very beautiful word. But the name Momo was very suitable for her.

She was all so tender, slender and dry, tanned. She had a long gray braid, pleasantly delicate features and tenacious hands. And so Momo began to bathe. It is not known why she decided to do this not in the shower, which was right next to her, but right here by the sinks in front of everyone.

She was wearing a sari and first took off his top. Remaining in a dry sari underneath, she dipped a piece of cloth into a basin and began to lather it. On absolutely straight legs, she bent to the pelvis and passionately scrubbed her clothes. Her bare chest was visible. And those breasts looked like the breasts of a young girl—small and beautiful. The skin on her back looked like it was cracked. Tight fit protruding shoulder blades. She was all so mobile, nimble, tenacious. After washing the top of the sari and putting it on, she let her hair down and dipped it in the same basin of soapy water where the sari had just been. Why does she save so much water? Or soap? Her hair was silver from the soapy water, or maybe from the sun. At some point, another woman came up to her, took some kind of rag, dipped it into the basin that contained the sari, and began rubbing Momo’s back. The women did not turn to each other. They didn’t communicate. But Momo was not at all surprised that her back was being rubbed. After rubbing the skin in the cracks for some time, the woman put down the rag and left.

She was very beautiful, this Momo. Sunny daylight, soapy, with long silver hair and a lean, strong body.

I looked around and rubbed something in the basin for show, and in the end I didn’t have time to wash my pants when the gong for meditation sounded.


I woke up in the night in terror. My heart was pounding like crazy, there was a clearly audible ringing in my ears, my stomach was burning, I was all wet with sweat. I was afraid that there was someone in the room, I felt something strange … Someone’s presence … I was afraid of death. This moment when everything is over for me. How will this happen to my body? Will I feel my heart stop? Or maybe there is someone not from here next to me, I just don’t see him, but he’s here. He can appear at any second, and I will see his outlines in the dark, his burning eyes, feel his touch.

I was so scared that I couldn’t move, and on the other hand, I wanted to do something, anything, just to end it. Wake up the volunteer girl who lived with us in the building and tell her what happened to me, or go outside and shake off this delusion.

On some remnants of willpower, or maybe already developed a habit of observation, I began to observe my breathing. I don’t know how long it all went on, I felt wild fear on every breath and exhale, again and again. Fear of understanding that I am alone and no one can protect me and save me from the moment, from death.

Then I fell asleep. At night I dreamed about the face of the devil, it was red and exactly like the demon mask I bought in a tourist shop in Kathmandu. Red, glowing. Only the eyes were serious and promised me everything I want. I did not want gold, sex or fame, but still there was something that kept me firmly in the circle of Samsara. It was…

The most interesting thing is that I forgot. I don’t remember what it was. But I remember that in a dream I was very surprised: is that really all, why am I here? And the eyes of the devil answered me: “Yes.”


Today is the last day of silence, the tenth day. This means that everything, the end of endless rice, the end of getting up at 4-30 and, of course, finally I can hear the voice of a loved one. I feel such a need to hear his voice, to hug him and tell him that I love him with all my heart, that I think if I focus on this desire just a little more now, I can teleport. In this mood, the tenth day passes. Periodically it turns out to meditate, but not especially.

In the evening we meet with grandpa again. On this day he is really sad. He says that tomorrow we will be able to speak, and that ten days is not enough time to realize the dharma. But what does he hope that we have learned to meditate at least a little here. That if, upon arrival home, we are angry not for ten minutes, but at least five, then this is already a huge achievement.

Grandpa also advises us to repeat meditation once a year, as well as to meditate twice a day, and advises us not to be like one of his acquaintances from Varanasi. And he tells us a story about his friends.

One day, acquaintances of Goenka’s grandfathers from Varanasi decided to have a good time and hired a rower to ride them along the Ganges all night. Night came, they got into the boat and said to the rower – row. He started to row, but after about ten minutes he said: “I feel that the current is carrying us, can I put down the oars?” Goenka’s friends allowed the rower to do so, easily believing him. In the morning, when the sun rose, they saw that they had not set sail from the shore. They were angry and disappointed.

“So you,” concluded Goenka, “are both the rower and the one who hires the rower.” Do not deceive yourselves in the dharma journey. Work!


Today is the last evening of our stay here. All meditators go where. I walked by the meditation hall and looked into the faces of Nepalese women. How interesting, I thought, that some kind of expression seemed to freeze on one or the other face.

Although the faces are motionless, the women are clearly “in themselves”, but you can try to guess their character and the way they interact with the people around them. This one with three rings on her fingers, her chin up all the time, and her lips skeptically compressed. It seems that if she opens her mouth, the first thing she will say will be: “You know, our neighbors are such idiots.”

Or this one. It seems to be nothing, it is clear that it is not evil. So, swollen and kind of stupid, slow. But then you watch, you watch how she always takes a couple of servings of rice for herself at dinner, or how she rushes to take a place in the sun first, or how she looks at other women, especially Europeans. And it’s so easy to imagine her in front of a Nepalese TV saying, “Mukund, our neighbors had two TVs, and now they have a third TV. If only we had another TV.” And tired and, probably, rather dried up from such a life, Mukund answers her: “Of course, dear, yes, we will buy another TV set.” And she, smacking her lips a little like a calf, as if chewing grass, looks languidly at the TV and it’s funny to her when they make her laugh, sad when they want to make her worry … Or here …

But then my fantasies were interrupted by Momo. I noticed that she passed by and walked confidently enough towards the fence. The fact is that our entire meditation camp is surrounded by small fences. Women are fenced off from men, and we are all from the outside world and teachers’ houses. On all the fences you can see the inscriptions: “Please do not cross this border. Be happy!” And here is one of these fences that separate meditators from the Vipassana temple.

This is also a meditation hall, only more beautiful, trimmed with gold and similar to a cone stretched upwards. And Momo went to this fence. She walked over to the sign, looked around, and—as long as no one was looking—removed the ring from the barn door and quickly slipped through it. She ran a few steps up and tilted her head very funny, she was clearly looking at the temple. Then, looking back again and realizing that no one sees her (I pretended to look at the floor), fragile and dry Momo ran up another 20 steps and began to openly stare at this temple. She took a couple of steps to the left, then a couple of steps to the right. She clasped her hands. She turned her head.

Then I saw a panting nanny of Nepalese women. Europeans and Nepalese women had different volunteers, and although it would be more honest to say “volunteer”, the woman looked like a kind nanny from one of the Russian hospitals. She silently ran to Momo and showed with her hands: “Go back.” Momo turned around but pretended not to see her. And only when the nanny approached her, Momo began to press her hands to her heart and show with all appearance that she had not seen the signs and did not know that it was impossible to enter here. She shook her head and looked terribly guilty.

What is on her face? I continued to think. Something like that … It is unlikely that she can be seriously interested in money. Maybe… Well, of course. It’s so simple. Curiosity. Momo with silver hair was terribly curious, just impossible! Even the fence couldn’t stop her.


Today we have spoken. European girls discussed how we all felt. They were embarrassed that we all burped, farted and hiccupped. Gabrielle, a Frenchwoman, said she felt nothing at all and fell asleep all the time. “What, did you feel something?” she wondered.

Josephine turned out to be Joselina—I misread her name. Our fragile friendship collapsed on the language barrier. She turned out to be Irish with a very heavy accent for my perception and a frantic speed of speech, so we hugged several times, and that was it. Many have said that this meditation is part of a larger journey for them. They were also in other ashrams. The American, who came for the second time specifically for Vipassana, said that yes, it really has a positive effect on her life. She started painting after the first meditation.

Russian girl Tanya turned out to be a freediver. She used to work in an office, but then she started diving without scuba gear in depth, and she got so flooded that she now dives 50 meters and was at the World Championships. When she told something, she said: “I love you, I will buy a tram.” This expression captivated me, and I fell in love with her in a purely Russian way at that moment.

The Japanese women spoke almost no English, and it was difficult to maintain a dialogue with them.

We all agreed on only one thing – we were here to somehow cope with our emotions. Which turned us around, influenced us, were too strong, strange. And we all wanted to be happy. And we want now. And, it seems, we began to get a little bit … It seems to be.


Just before leaving, I went to the place where we usually drank water. Nepalese women were standing there. After we started talking, they immediately distanced themselves from the English-speaking ladies and communication was limited to only smiles and embarrassed “excuse me”.

They kept together all the time, three or four people nearby, and it was not so easy to talk to them. And to be honest, I really wanted to ask them a couple of questions, especially since Nepalese in Kathmandu treat visitors exclusively as tourists. The Nepalese government apparently encourages such an attitude, or maybe everything is bad with the economy … I don’t know.

But communication with the Nepalese, even spontaneously arising, is reduced to the interaction of buying and selling. And this, of course, is, firstly, boring, and secondly, also boring. All in all, it was a great opportunity. And so I came up to drink some water, looked around. There were three women nearby. One young woman doing stretching exercises with fury on her face, another middle-aged with a pleasant expression, and a third none. I don’t even remember her now.

I turned to a middle-aged woman. “Excuse me, madam,” I said, “I don’t want to disturb you, but I am very interested to know something about Nepalese women and how you felt during meditation.”

“Of course,” she said.

And this is what she told me:

“You see quite a lot of older women or middle-aged women in Vipassana, and this is no coincidence. Here in Kathmandu, Mr. Goenka is quite popular, his community is not considered a sect. Sometimes someone comes back from vipassana and we see how that person has changed. He becomes kinder to others and calmer. So this technique gained popularity in Nepal. Strangely, young people are less interested in it than middle-aged people and the elderly. My son says that this is all nonsense and that you need to go to a psychologist if something is wrong. My son is doing business in America and we are a wealthy family. I, too, have been living in America for ten years now and come back here only occasionally to see my relatives. The younger generation in Nepal is on the wrong path of development. They are most interested in money. It seems to them that if you have a car and a good house, this is already happiness. Perhaps this is from the horrendous poverty that surrounds us. Due to the fact that I have been living in America for ten years, I can compare and analyze. And that’s what I see. Westerners come to us in search of spirituality, while Nepalese go to the West because they want material happiness. If it were within my power, all I would do for my son would be to take him to Vipassana. But no, he says he doesn’t have time, too much work.

This practice for us is easily combined with Hinduism. Our brahmins say nothing about this. If you want, practice to your health, just be kind and observe all the holidays too.

Vipassana helps me a lot, I visit it for the third time. I went to trainings in America, but it’s not the same, it doesn’t change you so deeply, it doesn’t explain to you what’s going on so deeply.

No, it is not difficult for older women to meditate. We have been sitting in the lotus position for centuries. When we eat, sew or do something else. Therefore, our grandmothers easily sit in this position for an hour, which cannot be said about you, people from other countries. We see that this is hard for you, and for us it is strange.”

A Nepalese woman wrote down my e-mail, said she would add me on facebook.


After the course ended, we were given what we passed at the entrance. Phones, cameras, camcorders. Many returned to the center and began to take group photos or shoot something. I held the smartphone in my hand and thought. I really wanted to keep a grapefruit tree with yellow fruits against the background of a bright blue sky. Return or not? It seemed to me that if I did this – point the camera on the phone at this tree and click on it, then it would devalue something. This is all the more strange because in ordinary life I like to take pictures and often do it. People with professional cameras passed by me, they exchanged opinions and clicked everything around.

It has now been several months since the end of the meditation, but when I want to, I close my eyes, and in front of them is either a grapefruit tree with bright yellow round grapefruits against a bright blue sky, or the gray cones of the Himalayas on a windy pink-red evening. I remember the cracks in the stairs that led us up to the meditation hall, I remember the silence and calmness of the hall inside. For some reason, all this became important for me and I remember it as well as episodes from childhood are sometimes remembered – with a feeling of some kind of inner joy inside, air and light. Maybe someday I’ll draw a grapefruit tree from memory and hang it in my house. Somewhere where the sun’s rays fall most often.

Text: Anna Shmeleva.

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