A week of Vipassana



July 2017

By Manu Moudgil

Manu Moudgil attends a Vipassana retreat that helps him sort out his life and emotions, making him freer and more balanced in the process

I attended a week-long Vipassana retreat recently at the beautiful Thai Monastery in Sarnath. Yes, the same Vipassana you might have heard people boast about, especially its stories of hardships.

Thankfully, my experience was neither hard, nor something to brag about. I didn’t get any great revelations of how the outer or inner world works. And it was not difficult to keep mum. Partly, it was because of the flexible format of this retreat which was very unlike the famous Goenka-style Vipassana. The latter, I am told, involves silent sitting for 10 days and is a very strict practice involving the need to focus on your bodily sensations.

The retreat I went for is conducted by Christopher Titmuss, a 72-year-old spiritual teacher from UK who used to be a Buddhist monk, living in forests and caves of India, Thailand and other Asian countries. But most notable aspect of his personality is his great sense of humour which made the whole experience a lot of fun.

We had silent sittings, but time was also given for walking meditation, which was very refreshing; discourses on Buddha’s teachings were conducted too, and we were also allowed to have one-to-one interviews with the teachers, if needed (besides Christopher we had Zohar, who has been on the Buddhist Dharma path for the past 20 years).

Sarnath is a satellite town near Varanasi but thankfully it is not as crowded and noisy as the latter. The wide roads are adorned with big neem and peepal trees with the ancient Buddhist stupas and beautiful monasteries adding to the balmy landscape.

Sitting on the gardens of the Thai Monastery before entering its secluded Vipassana grounds, I was wondering why am I here? What do I need from this? No answer came except the desire to explore the unknown, within and without.

The dread to be cut off from the world for a whole week rushed in and remained there for a couple of days. The organisers recommend that we give in our gadgets at the start of the retreat to be kept in a trunk, which Christopher calls ‘The Coffin’.  Many still didn’t surrender. My roommate, a teacher from the US, kept his Kindle. This, he said, was for the days he has to be confined to the room due to chest congestion so that he can read something, instead of brooding over the level of phlegm.

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