S.N. Goenka and the California Vipassana Center
About my experience at CVC and what it means to me.
Upon the suggestion of Marc B. of San Diego Food Not Lawns, I took a 10-day course at the California Vipassana Center from 25 April 2007 to 6 June 2007.
I could write a book about the experience but will try not to.
What I did not like:
--> They do not tell us ahead of time that there is only fruit for dinner after the first night. I wouldn't have been scared away by that. That seemed indicative of an older, conservative, guru-style teaching approach--not being up-front about what we're getting into. They have reasonable reasons for maintaining the traditional approach they use, however.
--> Many do not practice mindful, peaceful walking.
--> You don't know what Goenka is chanting unless you're from India or have already studied Pali. The course is primarily a ton of meditation time interspersed with recordings of Goenka. He sounds like he is dying a lot of the time (slow, drawn-out glottal stops). I found it challenging to be equanimous when listening to him. Which may be the point.
--> It was hard. Brutal. If you follow their rules exactly, you are attempting to follow Goenka's meditation instructions from 430am - 9pm with only about four and a half hours of breaks in between. His meditation instructions for one day might consist of, "Focus your attention at the top of the lip. Top of the lip." (He does elaborate on it more than that). You're supposed to try to do that for a whole day. The following day's instructions may change only slightly.
--> They do not provide any suggestions on how to sit. And people don't know! The meditation room looks like a war zone. Later on, I got some good pointers at Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple. I also learned by trial and error.
What I did like:
--> It is funded by donations. Someone gave me a gift.
--> The food was excellent.
--> I got to see if or how I would deal with lots of time dedicated to meditation.
--> I learned an enormous amount.
--> I have changed my life partly as a result. Sitting for an hour in the morning and for an hour in the evening is transformational.
--> I learned the basic Vipassana technique.
--> I got to see what life is like with no reading, writing, or speaking.
--> I got to sleep in the campground the whole time.
--> Paupers and princes (the poor and the well off) are sitting next to each other day in, day out.
I'll stop with that list for now.
I was so happy to get out of that place. So happy.
I did my best to forget about the experience during my walk to Quail Springs. I just did my ITP, I think. At Quail Springs, I began to sit for an hour each morning. That was for four weeks. When I left Quail Springs, I began to sit twice a day, as Goenka recommends. Doing so is life-changing.
While I learned a huge amount, I'm not quite ready to give the gift of a ten-day CVC course to anyone else ($180 - $200). There may be a less violent way to learn what I learned. The Spirit Rock Meditation Center may offer a similar course with a bit more love and skillful means. If I don't find a place that more merits dana (giving, donation), I will give the CVC gift to someone else, and even if I do find an approach I prefer, I may still give the CVC gift--because they truly are a place where anyone can go, and that is why I was there, and that is why I learned, however painful.
Thank you Goenka, and thank you all the volunteers and donors of CVC, and thank you Marc B.
My assistant teachers were Marie and Julian Cohen.